Center for Injury Research and Prevention

Teen Driving Safety Research at CIRP

teen driving safety research in action
Teen driving safety research in action: CIRP's Epidemiology and Biostatistics team, led by Allison E. Curry, PhD (right) 

Motor vehicle crashes remain the No. 1 cause of death for adolescents. Through its multidisciplinary Teen Driving Safety Research program, the Center for Injury Research and Prevention (CIRP) at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia Research Institute is working to reduce the frequency and severity of motor vehicle crashes involving teens behind the wheel. Most of our teen driving safety research corresponds to at least one of the following categories:

  1. Teen drivers' skill acquisition and training
  2. Compliance with and enforcement of Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) provisions
  3. Improving teen driving behaviors

Crashes involving teen drivers are caused by multiple factors and require comprehensive solutions. Working to develop these solutions through teen driver safety research is equally complex, involving many different disciplines and methods. Our Teen Driving Safety Research team employs comprehensive, rigorous methods to both analyze factors associated with teen crashes and to develop interventions to change behaviors that contribute to these crashes. We believe that by understanding predictors of teen driver crashes, we can help prevent them.

Areas of Teen Driving Safety Research:

Graduated Driver Licensing

Learning to Drive

Developmental Disabilities & Driving

Distracted Driving

Improve Driving Behaviors

Foundational and Completed Teen Driver Safety Research Projects

Current and Completed Teen Driving Safety Research Projects:

Graduated Driver Licensing

Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) programs--which include restrictions on passengers and nighttime driving during the first year of licensure--are a cornerstone of public policy aimed at reducing the burden of crashes on adolescent health. Further reductions in teen crash rates will rely on strengthening specific provisions of GDL, as well as greater compliance with and enforcement of GDL provisions. Thus, the Teen Driver Safety Research team at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia Research Institute has focused efforts to inform how best to improve GDL policy. Here is an overview of research projects currently underway:

Learning to Drive

Studies of newly-licensed teen drivers indicate that they exit the learner permit period with significant difficulty executing a variety of driving behaviors, leading to a  three to four times increased risk of crashing the first year after getting licensed. CIRP researchers have developed and tested two novel approaches to help teen drivers receive the necessary training to acquire skills and experience to drive safely. The first helps parents better supervise their teens’ practice driving and the second intervenes right before the driver’s license on-road exam.

Developmental Disabilities & Driving

CHOP's Teen Driving Safety Research team is currently conducting rigorous research on adolescents with developmental disabilities, including Autism Spectrum Disorder and Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder,  who want to drive or are currently driving, to examine their rates of licensure and risk of crashing to help establish the epidemiologic foundation for future translational research. Read more about this teen driving safety research.

Distracted Driving

Investigators at CIRP and the University of Pennsylvania are working together to develop behavior change interventions that include strategies to encourage focused attention on driving to address distracted driving, a key contributor to teen driver crashes. Read more about this teen driving safety research.

Improve Driving Behaviors

Through the analysis of naturalistic and simulated driving data, our Teen Driving Safety Research team is working to reduce the frequency and severity of crashes involving teen drivers. They are conducting a number of studies to assess the driving skills of newly licensed teens, how various driving scenarios affect teen driving behaviors and emotions, and how interventions affect teen driving behaviors and skill levels. Read more about this teen driving safety research.

Foundational and Completed Teen Driving Safety Research Projects

  • TeenDrivingPlan (TDP) -- The development of TDP, an interactive web-based program to help parents more effectively supervise driving practice, involved five years of formative research followed by a randomized, controlled trial of young drivers and their parent supervisors. Key TDP study results show that the intervention increases parent engagement as driving supervisors, practice variety, and parent support of teens. Young drivers that used TDP over a 24-week period were 65 percent less likely to fail a rigorous on-road driving assessment than those not given access to TDP. Families who used TDP also reported more driving practice in various environments, at night, and in bad weather. 
  • The Simulated Driving Assessment (SDA) -- CHOP researchers have developed and validated the Simulated Driving Assessment (SDA), a simulator-based driving assessment that can differentiate between skilled and non-skilled drivers. The development of the SDA followed more than a decade of foundational CHOP research regarding young driver crashes and over five years of research to create and validate it. The SDA offers for the first time a safe way to assess novice teen drivers' skills in high-risk driving scenarios that commonly lead to crashes. The SDA is a package of software products that runs on commercially available driving simulators. As a standard protocol to evaluate teen driver performance, the SDA has the potential to screen and assess for licensure readiness and could be used to guide targeted skill training. Future CHOP studies will further explore the SDA's use in evaluating risky driving behaviors in teens.
  • Outreach Teen Driving Program Evaluation -- CHOP researchers collaborated with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) to develop tools to facilitate the evaluation and enhancement of community outreach programs for teen driver safety. The two-year project included stakeholder interviews in the community, review of existing programs both within the state and across the nation, and interactive workshops with traffic safety professionals.
  • Prevalence of Teen Driver Errors Leading to Serious Motor Vehicle Crashes. In this study, CHOP researchers were able to pinpoint why teen drivers crash. es. Driver error was by far the most common reason for crashes (95.6 percent), as opposed to vehicle or environmental factors.   
  • On-road Driving Assessment -- The teen Onroad Driving Assessment(tODA) was validated for use in the development of TeenDrivingPlan (TDP), an evidence-based interactive web-based program to help parents more effectively supervise their teens' practice driving.
  • Ride Like a Friend -- Developed at CIRP, RLAF was a peer-to-peer social marketing campaign teens used in schools to encourage safe driver and passenger behavior and was an excellent example of program theory in practice.
  • National Young Driver Survey -- In 2006, The National Young Driver Survey (NYDS) was created to help Teen Driver Safety researchers better understand how teens perceive and experience driving. Ten research papers were published in the scientific literature and insights learned from NYDS helped CIRP determine future lines of research that would contribute most – and have the greatest impact – on teen driver safety.
  • Miles to Go. Between 2011 and 2013, CIRP published this annual report series. Miles to Go monitored teen driving safety statistics and trends, providing a yearly snapshot of teen driving safety statistics for the nation. Access the reports here.

More About Teen Driving Safety Research

Read the latest about CIRP’s Teen Driving Safety Research on the Research in Action blog.