UI researchers awarded traffic-safety award



Researchers at the University of Iowa College of Engineering will be honored with the Iowa Commissioner’s Special Award for Traffic Safety on April 23 for their project to improve safety for teenage drivers.

Cher Carney and Michelle Reyes worked a project that installed cameras and video recorders in teens’ vehicles to monitor their driving.

As a result of their research, the Iowa Department of Transportation added several restrictions on teen drivers and added new rules to reduce risks in several ways.

First started in 2005, the research went on for approximately 10 years, Carney said. It consisted of a series of five studies.

The project involved collecting data, analyzing it, and using the data to inform and influence lawmakers, Cara Hamann, a faculty associate in epidemiology at the UI Injury Prevention Research Center, said. Hamann has also done research in teen driving.

“The study focused on young drivers at the point [that] they received their intermediate licenses, and we recruited families [that] were interested in having a drive camp, that is a recording device that captures video both inside and outside their child’s vehicles,” Carney said.

During the studies, the families were provided with feedback weekly on how their teen was doing.

Instances in which risk was high were pointed out, Reyes said. These included distractions because of having someone else in the car, accelerating too quickly, and driving during the night.

Parents were provided with video evidence of this, she said.

“We used the first two studies to write up a policy brief that we distributed to legislators in Des Moines,” Carney said. “We were trying to get them to pass stricter [graduated driver’s license] laws.”

The best practice to keep young drivers safe is to keep them off the road during the night until they gain more experience, Reyes said.

“Things we were speaking about were not just from our research but of others that have shown that best practices for new drivers are to reduce distractions such as other passengers in the vehicles,” Reyes said.

There are five parts for the graduated driver’s license, Carney said. They include increasing the time teens have learner’s permits, increasing the age for an intermediate license, restricting passengers from night driving, increasing the age for getting the permit, and increasing the practice hours.

The department increased the amount of time for the learner’s permit from six months to one year, she said.

“Iowa still has a lot of work to do as far as [graduated driver’s license] laws go,” Carney said. “[Iowa’s laws] are perhaps the weakest in the country.”

However, there was also the option to opt out of the provision, Reyes said. Research has shown that 90 percent of parents opt out, and teens can drive with as many passengers as there are seat belts in the car.

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