Research In Action

Research In Action

Understanding Emergency Braking in Teen Drivers
January 14, 2016

A fascinating result of the extensive teen driving research done at CIRP in general, and of the Simulated Driving Assessment (SDA) in particular, is the way teens and adults handle emergency situations differently. A recent study we conducted published in Transportation Research Record assessed over 60 novice teen drivers (licensed for 3 months or less) and 20 adults to determine their reaction time when placed in an emergency situation with an incoming vehicle cutting into the driver’s path.

About 10 percent of these licensed teens were clearly confused by the situation, to the point where they would accelerate instead of brake or just plainly miss the brake pedal. In addition, close analysis of the data showed that even when they correctly found the brake pedal, novice teens braked a lot less efficiently than adults. By being too light on the brake for the situation, they were disproportionally represented in the simulated crashes as compared to the adults.  

Intrigued by these results, I felt that the next step was to use “real life” driving data to assess whether this poor emergency reaction from teens holds in real life. Since placing teens in an on-road dangerous driving situation, not via simulator, is simply not possible, I was thrilled with the prospect of using the SHRP2 naturalistic database to answer my research question: Do novice teen drivers handle emergency situations differently than adult drivers?

A New Data Resource

Back in 2005, Congress authorized a major research project to increase the safety of our roads. Through the Strategic Highway Research Program 2 Naturalistic Driving Study (SHRP2) initiative, close to 3,000 drivers of all ages consented to have their car instrumented with cameras, radars, and sensors on the steering wheel and pedals. All of their actions were logged continuously for about two years. Data collection ended recently, and it is now available to traffic safety researchers.

The CIRP@CHOP Teen Driver Safety Research team recently acquired some 1,500 crashes and near crash events from SHRP2. By watching the videos and the events that lead to crashes or near crashes, and conducting a quantitative analysis of the braking patterns in these emergency situations, my colleagues and I will be able to develop a better understanding of the fundamental reasons why teens crash three to four times more than their adult peers. We will then be able to develop interventions to prevent these crashes from occurring, through better training or better car safety design.