The ultimate goal of all research at the NICHD is to support the Institute’s mission, an important part of which is “that all children have the chance to achieve their full potential for healthy and productive lives.” For this reason, a major focus of the NICHD research on driving is the search for ways to reduce the risk for injury and death from inexperienced drivers.
Using naturalistic and experimental methods, the NICHD research on driving has goals to determine:
- The nature of motor vehicle crashes and the subgroups most at risk. Current research focuses on teen drivers’ exposure to known risk factors and how the exposure changes over time from licensure, whether their exposure is different from that of adults, and whether teen drivers who own their own cars have higher levels of exposure than teens who do not.
- How driving improves over time. For example, recent studies have compared teen driving patterns with their parents’ driving patterns over the same period: 1) when the teen is first licensed and 2) during the first 18 months of licensure. This is to evaluate the effect of experience on risk of crashes.
- The driving conditions and behaviors associated with crashes. Studies using naturalistic methods have followed new teen drivers for up to 18 months, recording behaviors and driving conditions using video cameras and a variety of other tools.
- The effects of social influences on driving performance. Recent studies have focused on the effects of vehicle passengers on speeding and other risky driving of teen drivers to determine if the age and sex of a passenger influences the willingness of a teen driver to take risks. Other studies have sought to determine how the relative risk of involvement in a fatal crash changes with age and gender of the driver and the passenger.
- Solutions to problems faced by novice young drivers. These include:
- Evaluating the effectiveness of graduated driver licensing programs, which vary in their requirements from state to state.
- Studying the role of parents in implementing graduated driver licensing programs (evaluating the Checkpoints Program).
- Determining if parent-supervised practice driving is associated with better driving performance once a teen is licensed.
- Evaluating components of graduated driver licensing programs such as nighttime driving restrictions and passenger restrictions.
- Assessing the role of race and ethnicity in the effectiveness of driver licensing programs.
- The changing effects of gender on relative risk for crash-related injury and fatality.