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Teen driving

Study: Virtual driving test helps predict crash risk for teens, young adults

October 16, 2023

A virtual assessment can help predict which new drivers are at greatest risk of getting into a crash, according to a new study.

“These findings are incredibly important because they provide us with quantitative evidence that we can approach young driver safety in a new way – by predicting crash risk and aiming resources to those who need them most,” co-author Flaura Winston, M.D., Ph.D., co-scientific director of the Center for Injury Research and Prevention (CIRP) at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, said in a press release. “By providing this information before licensure, we can direct resources to those most at risk, and potentially prevent crashes from occurring when these teens first drive on their own.”

About 20% of young new drivers crash within the first year after receiving their license, according to the study. About 5% of licensed drivers are between ages 15-20 years old, but this age group makes up 12% of drivers involved in police-reported crashes.

Researchers from CIRP, the University of Pennsylvania and University of Michigan set out to test the predictive value of a virtual driving assessment (VDA) and reported their findings today in “Driving Skills at Licensure and Time to First Crash,” (Walshe EA, et al. Pediatrics. Oct. 16, 2023). Dr. Winston and another author reported financial interests in the simulation product, so analyses were reviewed and approved by outside consultants.

The team tested the virtual assessment with 16,914 drivers under 25 years of age in Ohio immediately before their state license exam. The 15-minute simulation included potential crash hazards like intersections, curved roads and merges. It assessed drivers’ behaviors like braking, accelerating and steering.  Drivers were classified as having no issues, minor issues, major issues or major issues with dangerous behavior. The study did not take into account driving experience before the test.

Researchers then followed up by examining Ohio crash records for a year after drivers received their license. About 14% of new drivers had a crash recorded. The group deemed to have no issues in the virtual assessment had a 10% lower crash risk than the average while risk was 11% above average for the group that had major issues with dangerous behavior. The middle two groups from the virtual assessment had an average crash risk.

“That risk profile has now been shown to be predictive of their crash behavior during their first couple of years on the road,” co-author Michael Elliott, Ph.D., professor of biostatistics at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, said in a press release. “What's crucial to note is that most of these behaviors are amenable with additional driving training."

Data also showed drivers who got a license at 18 years had a 16% higher crash risk than average. Authors noted in Ohio, 18-year-olds do not have a learner permit, mandatory driver education and behind-the-wheel training like younger teens.

Elizabeth Walshe, Ph.D., a research scientist who leads the Neuroscience Driving Team at CIRP, encouraged pediatricians to talk to adolescent patients about safe driving. 

“Promoting graduated licensing, encouraging driver training and parent practice and administering the virtual driving assessment are practice-based strategies to help families ensure that their teen’s first independent ride is a safe one,” Dr. Walshe said in a video abstract. “Pediatricians are key to preventing young driver crashes, a continuing public health crisis.”





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