Compelled by chilling crash statistics and inspired by watching his son play Grand Prix video games, David M. Bishai, MD, PhD, MPH, set out with a grant from the Center for Injury Research and Policy (CIRP) to improve something that’s largely been neglected for decades: driver’s education for teens.
“Hardly anyone’s examining what young drivers need to know to be safe,” says Bishai, a professor in Population, Family and Reproductive Health. While yawn-inspiring old-school driver’s ed may be of questionable value, he contends that an engaging program employing innovative software that emphasizes contemporary hazard-recognition content could, in fact, make a life-and-death difference in the same way that graduated licensing has. His aim: to create an interactive experience that teaches teens to anticipate road hazards.
With Hopkins colleague Sara Johnson, PhD ’05, MPH ’01, and Maria Schultheis, PhD, of Drexel University, Bishai is testing the validity of a Digital Mediaworks driving simulator. The team has tested 10 subjects so far, correlating measures of driving performance in the lab with measures of attention, risk-taking and intelligence. Bishai’s goal now is to compare the performances of 100 16- to 18-year-old novices to more experienced drivers in the context of routine driving as well as with added stresses such as phones ringing.
As the simulator measures each subject’s specific competencies, it also gives researchers insight into the teen brain.
“If we show the simulator can differentiate between good and bad driving, and inexperienced and experienced drivers,” he says, “then we would have an ‘in virtuo’ model of the most lethal threat to teen health—driving.”
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