Trial will determine whether broad teen driver safety intervention can decrease their motor vehicle crashes

A new grant allows researchers to further identify family-based interventions needed for teen driver safety.

jessica mirman 2018Jessica Hafetz Mirman, Ph.D.A new research project at the University of Alabama at Birmingham focuses on improving teen driver safety with a randomized controlled trial of a comprehensive parenting program and teen on-road driver assessment. With a $2 million R01 grant from the National Institutes of Health, researchers will determine whether the program can increase parent engagement and safely expedite teens’ acquisition of important driving skills, potentially reducing crashes during their first year of licensure.

The study is the first family-based teen driver safety intervention that targets both parents and teens in the family unit with components specifically tailored for both the learner and intermediate periods of graduated driver licensing. It is based on more than a decade of research on what intervention components and approaches are likely to yield the most success.

“Teen drivers account for a disproportionate number of fatal and nonfatal injuries from motor vehicle crashes,” said Jessica Hafetz Mirman, Ph.D., assistant professor in the UAB College of Arts and Sciences Department of Psychology. “The long-term goal of our research is to identify effective programs that can reduce adolescents’ risk for motor vehicle crashes.”

Current best-practice policy approaches to teen driver motor vehicle crash prevention are state-level Graduated Driver Licensing programs, in which its success has come from its focus on restricting access to high-risk situations. However, there is a lack of interventions that can safely and directly improve novice adolescent drivers’ behavior behind the wheel.

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The study will provide teens a state-of-the-art, on-road driver assessment that is completed by a specialist who provides tailored feedback on the teens’ performance. Parents will receive in-person health coaching sessions with a trained facilitator and access to evidence-based psychoeducational materials. These interventions are designed to improve parent engagement across a wide range of parenting behaviors related to the learner and intermediate periods of GDL.

“Our goal is to determine whether the comprehensive parent- and teen-directed intervention can reduce the proportion of adolescent drivers who are in a motor vehicle crash during the first 12 months of licensure compared to a usual practice control condition,” said Mirman, principle investigator on the study. “Our innovative study design will also enable us to advance basic science theories of learning, problem-solving and parent-teen communication.”

The study is expected to last 5 years.

The interdisciplinary researcher team from UAB includes Cynthia Owsley, Ph.D., the Nathan E. Miles Chair of Ophthalmology; Despina Stavrinos, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Psychology; Leann Long, Ph.D., assistant professor in the School of Public Health; and Gerald McGwin, Ph.D., professor and vice chairman of the Department of Epidemiology.