MANHATTAN, KAN. -- Researchers at Kansas State University are studying whether using driving simulators helps make young teenagers safer when they take to the road.
The STAR, or Simulation, Training and Assessment Research, Lab at K-State is part of an initiative by Drive Safety, an organization that creates driving simulators and researches their effectiveness in industry and academic settings. Drive Safety sponsors the lab, which is directed by Renee Slick, assistant professor of psychology at K-State.
At the American Psychological Society meeting May 26-29, Slick and students will give two presentations on the STAR Lab's research: "Psychophysiological measures as a proxy for psychological fidelity: A pilot study of college drivers," and "Workload and perceived distraction from secondary tasks in teen drivers."
Slick said the two main purposes of the lab are to work with teen drivers to assess the training effectiveness of simulators and to study whether such training transfers to real-life driving situations.
"Teen driver safety is a critical issue because automobile crashes are the leading case of death for our nation's youth," she said. "We are focused on assessing psychological fidelity and development of training focused on curbing high risk behaviors."
Training teenagers to avoid dangerous driving situations is important, but it is not practical to put them into dangerous situations on the road and try to teach them how to react, Slick said.
"The major advantage of simulation is that it gives teen drivers a chance to practice and build experience without placing them in danger," she said.
STAR Lab is working with schools in Utah and Kansas to study the effect of combining traditional driver's education with modern curriculum and technology. The next phase of the research will look at understanding the difference between real-world and simulator driving, Slick said. For this study, researchers will hook the student drivers up to monitors while using the simulators and while driving in "real life."
The STAR Lab simulator is actually the front half of a real car and focuses on the physical fidelity of what's its like to be in a vehicle -- the CD player and the shifter all work, for example. Screens surround the car, and onto them are projected virtual worlds with images of roads, buildings, pedestrians and other cars. The simulator can switch from daytime to nighttime and from sunny to snowy conditions, for example. Although the researchers control the environment, the student driver controls every move of the car.
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