$3 million grant expands research related to driving and concussion

The grant will help UAB researchers evaluate the impact of mild traumatic brain injury on teen driving and develop guidelines on when teens can safely get back behind the wheel.
Written by: Tehreem Khan
Media contact: Brianna Hoge

Young woman sitting in drivers seat of car waiting fro driving lessonThe grant will help UAB researchers evaluate the impact of mild traumatic brain injury on teen driving and develop guidelines on when teens can safely get back behind the wheel.The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development has awarded an R01 grant to the University of Alabama at Birmingham Translational Research for Injury Prevention Laboratory to understand the effects on adolescents driving post-injury as compared to healthy students.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports an estimated 1.6 million to 3.8 million sports- and recreation-related concussions in the United States each year. Most of these occur from motor vehicle crashes and sports-related injuries in teens and young adults, causing headache, dizziness and confusion, among other cognitive impairments, that can affect driving ability.

“Guidelines for when patients should return to driving following mild traumatic brain injury are urgently needed,” said Despina Stavrinos, Ph.D., principal investigator of the study and associate professor in the UAB College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Psychology.

 The $3 million grant will fund research to evaluate the impact of mild traumatic brain injury on teen driving, which will help develop guidelines on when teens can safely return to driving and under what conditions.

“While mild traumatic brain injury can lead to cognitive difficulty, little is known about how it may affect driving, especially among teen drivers who are already at an increased risk due to their young age and inexperience compared to other age groups,” Stavrinos said.

This collaborative grant will help Stavrinos and the principal investigator at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Ginger Yang, Ph.D., M.D., yield insight into critical questions to improve the lives of teens after injury.

“Our study will fill critical gaps by providing evidence on how acutely post-injury neurocognitive function — for example, delayed reaction time — may impact driving ability, identifying therapeutic targets to help teens return to drive after mTBI,” Stavrinos said.

This study will be conducted at state-of-the-art driving simulator facilities at two large public universities, UAB and Ohio State University, bringing together strong interdisciplinary research expertise in teen driving safety and concussion management.

Environmental headshot of Dr. Despina Stavrinos, PhD (Associate Professor, Psychology) standing in front of the Driving Simulator in the TRIP (Translational Research for Injury Prevention) Laboratory, 2020.Despina Stavrinos, Ph.D.“The multi-site approach will increase the racial, geographical and socioeconomic diversity in our study population, thereby making our results more generalizable,” Stavrinos said. “Without this funding, a multi-site project of this scope would not have been possible.”

Stavrinos says she is grateful for the Interdisciplinary Team Award, which made pilot data possible, for the athletic trainers who will assist with recruiting teen drivers, and her local team, including Sylvie Mrug, Ph.D., professor and chair of the UAB Department of Psychology; Drew Davis, M.D., professor and medical director for the Division of Pediatric Rehabilitation Medicine at Children’s of Alabama;  Erin Swanson-Kimani, M.D., Pediatric Rehabilitation Medicine, Children’s of Alabama; James Robinson, M.D., chair of Sports Medicine and head team physician, University of Alabama; and Brett Bentley, M.D., Sports Medicine, UA, for their contributions in her research.