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New center to address safety of young drivers

The UNC Highway Safety Research Center has established the Center for the Study of Young Drivers (CSYD) to study and improve the safety of young drivers. The new center will focus on developing a fundamental understanding of the multitude of factors that contribute to the high crash rate among young drivers. This fundamental understanding is critical for the development of effective strategies to reduce the high crash rate among teens. The CSYD plans to begin training new researchers who can help to expand the study of young driver issues. In addition, Center scientists will also work with policy-makers and the general public to ensure a better understanding of the complexities that lead to young driver crashes and how those influence the kinds of programs that can help reduce the number of crashes.

Young driver

While the new center will be housed within the Highway Safety Research Center, the CSYD will combine expertise from several academic disciplines on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus and throughout the UNC system. A comprehensive understanding of the reasons that young drivers crash more often than others will require drawing on knowledge of biology, psychology, sociology, epidemiology and public health. Implementing successful programs will depend on expertise in the fields of political science and policy studies, organizational behavior and law. HSRC Senior Research Scientist Robert Foss, Ph.D., a social psychologist and leading researcher in the field of young driver behavior, will serve as director of the center. Additional members of the initial research team, all of whom have been working on young driver issues for several years, include Arthur Goodwin and Scott Masten, both of HSRC, as well as Dr. Lewis Margolis of the UNC Department of Maternal and Child Health.

The study of young drivers has been a program area within the UNC Highway Safety Research Center since 1993. Long at the forefront of research on this important phenomenon, HSRC has been instrumental in shaping policies and programs that have substantially reduced the young driver crash rate in North Carolina and throughout the U.S.

One of the most successful approaches to reducing teen crashes to date has been the development and enactment of Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) Systems. First envisioned in the 1970s by HSRC researcher Patricia Waller, GDL keeps young drivers out of the most dangerous driving situations until they have had many months and thousands of miles experience driving under less risky conditions. An evaluation of the GDL system in North Carolina conducted by Center researchers in 2001 showed a 57 percent decline in fatal crashes among 16-year-olds. More recent studies show a continuing benefit for both 16 and 17 year-old drivers. The success of the program has led more than 40 other states to develop similar programs.

HSRC researchers have also studied the effects of multiple passengers riding with young drivers. Research findings showed that a young driver with two or more passengers in the vehicle has more than twice the risk of being involved in a serious crash, compared with having no passengers at all. This finding contributed to an upgrade of the North Carolina GDL system to include a limit on the number of young passengers allowed to ride with an inexperienced teen driver.

“The continued importance of this issue to the health and well-being of teens, the influential research we have done in this area, the concentration of expertise we have in our research team and the incredible intellectual resources of this university make UNC and HSRC the ideal setting for an exclusive young driver research center,” said Dr. Foss.

In addition to working toward a comprehensive understanding of young driver behavior and crash risks, in the coming year, the CSYD is planning to examine the effects of school start times on teen crashes, what parents do to help their teens to become safe drivers and how they might be more effective driving mentors.

The University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center
730 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd, Suite 300  |  Campus Box 3430  |  Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3430
Phone: 919.962.2203  |  Fax: 919.962.8710