The National Academies

BTSCRP BTS-23 [Anticipated]

The Impacts of Experience on Teen Driving: Evidence from the Naturalistic Driving Study

  Project Data
Funds: $400,000
Staff Responsibility: Richard Retting
Fiscal Year: 2022

This project has been tentatively selected and a project statement (request for proposals) is expected to be available on this website. The problem statement below will be the starting point for a panel of experts to develop the project statement.

An important question is whether teenagers who are exposed to greater diversity of traffic and road environments early in their driving career have lower crash involvement than those who are exposed to less diversity. Ideally, this question would be addressed by analyzing how driving exposure—both the amount of driving and driving conditions—change when teens make the transition from supervised to unsupervised driving. While supervised driving data are not available in the Naturalistic Driving Study (NDS), it is possible to compare the diversity of experience in the early months of unsupervised driving with later months, and to examine the association of exposure to greater diversity with crashes and near-crashes.

The period of early exposure during unsupervised driving will be the focus of the proposed research. A research hypothesis will be that teens who spend a greater amount of either time or miles driving in a wider range of environments in their first 6 months of unsupervised driving are significantly less likely to experience a crash or near-crash in each subsequent 6-month experience band, compared to teens with a more restricted range of experience in their first 6 months of unsupervised driving. If it is found that not enough participants were enrolled in the NDS during their first 6 months of driving experience, this hypothesis may be modified to use the first 12 months of driving experience as the reference interval.

Distracted driving has become a growing concern over the past few decades with the advent of smartphones and other technologies with the potential to divert attention from the task of driving. However, the contribution of distracted driving to crashes is not well established. It can be challenging for an officer to determine whether a driver was distracted at the time of crash. For that reason, it is widely believed that distractions are underreported in crash records. Given the limitations of crash data, researchers have turned to observational methods to examine the prevalence and increased risk posed by non-driving-related tasks. Naturalistic studies, most notably the SHRP2 NDS, can objectively identify driver distraction behavior immediately before a crash or other event.

The SHRP2 NDS data provide an opportunity to address a number of questions related to teenagers and distracted driving: Which potentially distracting driver behaviors are most common among teenage drivers? Under what conditions do distracted driving behaviors most commonly occur (e.g., time of day, day of week, amount of traffic, and presence of passengers)? Which distracted driver behaviors are most likely to contribute to crashes and near-crashes? How does driver behavior change in presence of (teenage) passengers? These naturalistic data also support analyses of how distracting behaviors by teen drivers—and their role in crash causation—change as these novices gain experience behind the wheel.

The objectives of this research are to use the NDS data files to: (1) evaluate how exposure to greater diversity in traffic and road environments is associated with teen driver performance indicators such as crashes and near-crashes; and (2) gauge the association between confirmed incidences of teen distracting driving behaviors and inattention to the driving task with crashes and near crash involvement and determine if the relationships change with increasing driving experience.

Expected outcomes include a better understanding of how more diverse early driving experience lowers risks for teens, with a translation to education and regulation as measured through updates to materials used for training curricula and revised graduated drivers license (GDL) requirements. Also expected is a greater appreciation in the traffic safety community of the roles naturalistic driving data collection can play in developing safe driving habits and in evaluating driver capabilities and performance, potentially stimulating the use of increasingly affordable technologies for capturing such data by trainers/educators, caregivers, and others.

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