WE’VE ALL HEARD the warnings about texting and driving. You’ve likely even spotted someone texting and driving. I haven’t.
But a brother-in-law, who is a trucker, recently shared a story about watching a young woman lose control of her car along Interstate 94 in western Minnesota while texting. Somehow she managed to keep her car on the road and avoid a crash. My brother-in-law claims the incident happened so fast that the driver never took her eyes off her cell phone.
Stories like that scare me.
Now researchers at the University of Minnesota’s Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) Institute are undertaking a study of young drivers and texting practices in 18 Minnesota communities, most of them rural and Faribault among them.
I first learned of the study in a news brief published in the Faribault Daily News soliciting 20 newly-licensed 16-year-olds from the Faribault area to participate in the year-long study. Intrigued, I contacted Nichole L. Morris, a research associate in the U of M’s HumanFIRST program in the ITS Institute. She is working on this project, funded by the ITS Institute and the Minnesota Department of Transportation, along with a team of researchers.
The 300 teens selected for the study will be equipped with smartphones to collect and transmit driving data in real-time for their first full year of independent driving. Researchers will collect data until May 2104 with group data reported to MnDOT and then made public in early 2015.
“These results will hopefully shed light on what areas are most problematic for teen drivers, what can be done with our technology to improve the safety of teen drivers and what changes, if any, should be implemented to our teen driver laws to prevent more teen driving fatalities,” Morris says.
Eighty percent of teen fatal crashes occur in rural areas, Morris says, explaining why the project is targeting 18 mostly rural Minnesota communities. Faribault was selected for the study because of its population and low commuting rate. She declined to name the other 17 communities or any hypotheses to avoid adding bias to the study.
But, says Morris, “My hope is that we find some key answers to reduce crash and fatalities for teen drivers in Minnesota and nationwide. This is such an important issue because traffic crashes are the leading cause of fatalities for teens. The rate at which we lose our sons and daughters on the road is unacceptable and it is a charge to all citizens to help to become the solution to this problem.”
The passion Morris, who holds a Ph.D. in Human Factors Psychology, possesses for this project is palpable. “It is an exciting opportunity for parents and teens to be a part of the solution to end teen traffic fatalities.”
As of Friday morning, 216 Minnesota teens from the selected communities had been recruited for the study. About 10 more are needed from the Faribault area.
To apply, a teen must be 16 years of age, currently have a driver’s permit, receive provisional licensure between now and April 30, start the study within a month of getting licensed, drive at least 2-4 times a week, have no physical limitations that prevent driving and have parental permission.
Qualifying teens should contact Morris via phone at 612-624-4614 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Besides offering teens an opportunity to help find solutions to teen traffic fatalities, the project is also paying a $25 monthly incentive ($300 to be paid at the end of the year-long study) and providing smartphones with free monthly data, text and talk plans for a year.
© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling