U of M looking for teen drivers in Albert Lea

Published 6:48 am Sunday, January 6, 2013

A research group at the University of Minnesota is recruiting Albert Lea teens for a driving study.

Needed are 20 Albert Lea teens who have their learner’s permit and who will be getting their driver’s license between the dates of Feb. 1 and April 30. Nicole Morris, a research associate, with the study, said the project is administered by the Intelligent Transportation Systems Institute, part of the mechanical engineering department at the university.

“The main purpose is to examine newly-licensed teens,” Morris said.

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The study aims to understand how technology can be used to improve teen driver safety and enhance parental involvement with their teens during the learning phase of driving.

Morris said 80 percent of teen driving fatalities happen in rural areas, so much of the focus of the study is learning how teens drive in rural areas of Minnesota. She also said the researchers’ ultimate goal is to hopefully reduce crashes and driving fatalities.

Researchers would like to be able to monitor the driving habits of teens in the study as soon as they get their license, so teens who already have a driver’s license are not eligible for the study.

Eligible teens can have any type of vehicle, but must plan to drive regularly and be monitored for a one-year period. Teens in the study will be given a Samsung Galaxy S3 that will track their driving habits. The phone will be equipped with unlimited calling, texting and data, which will be paid for by the study. After the one-year period, teens can keep the phone but would have to pay for any future cell phone bills. Also after the one-year monitoring period, the teen will receive $300 for completing the study.

“We’re giving the smartphone to the teens because it’s essentially a portable computer,” Morris said.

The phone has to be in the car while the teen is driving, because it will measure via GPS, accelerometers and other tracking devices to detect how the teen is driving. It will know whether the teen is speeding or if they run a stop sign, and more.

“All that can be transmitted back to the university,” Morris said.

Other southern Minnesota communities in the study are Austin, Waseca, Rochester and Owatonna. To learn more about the study or to apply, email Morris at nlmorris@umn.edu or call 612-624-4614. To learn more about the institute visit its website at www.humanfirst.umn.edu.