$2.2 million grant will extend distracted driving research at UAB

Newswise — BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – The Translational Research for Injury Prevention Laboratory at the University of Alabama at Birmingham has been awarded $2.2 million by the National Institutes of Health to address a major health issue.

Motor vehicle collisions are the leading cause of death among teenagers — inattention is the primary contributor. They account for approximately one in three deaths among teens ages 16 to 19.

With this new influx of funding from the NIH, researchers at UAB will be able to test the influence of age and driving experience on driving attention development under various conditions, and will identify underlying cognitive mechanisms of attention development and ultimately the occurrences of collisions.

“We already know that driver inattention equals further vulnerability to distraction,” said Despina Stavrinos, Ph.D., assistant professor in the College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Psychology. “What we need to know more about is the relationship between young age and low driving experience to driving attention. We believe this new study will help reveal how those factors can actually predict driving attention and driving outcomes.”

The study will look at the drivers’ general attention, speed of processing and executive function — all underlying cognitive mechanisms of attention — in 220 adolescents.

The participants will be broken up into groups of 16- and 18-year-olds with and without driving experience, and they will perform general and driving-based attention tasks over a period of 18 months, which will allow the research to show the effects of age and driving experience on driving attention over time.

This grant will help Stavrinos add to the body of research her team has already published — the core of the TRIP Lab’s work is in the prevention of injury, particularly unintentional injuries like those that result from distracted driving behaviors.

Stavrinos will lead her TRIP Lab in conducting the new study with the help of a first-of-its-kind full-bodied SUV driving simulator, which helps add to the authenticity and accuracy of the experience a study participant has as a driver.

“Our intention is that the findings will have significant implications for targeted interventions, ultimately to reduce motor vehicle collisions and to develop policy regarding optimal age and experience for licensure,” Stavrinos said.

The study, “Longitudinal Examination of Driving Attention Among Adolescents,” began this month and will continue through May 2022.