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Shawn Brovold

Shawn Brovold with an experimental monitoring and assistance device for teen drivers.

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In Vehicle Driver Assistance for Teenagers

In-Vehicle Technology to Correct Teen Driving Behavior: Addressing Patterns of Risk

Presentation by Shawn Brovold
Masters degree student, Dept. of Mechanical Engineering

November 8, 2005

Teens are among the most risk-prone groups of drivers, experiencing higher accident rates than drivers with a few more years of experience and the highest traffic fatality rate of any age group. Several researchers at the University of Minnesota are currently working to address this serious public safety issue by developing new tools to monitor and correct new drivers' unsafe behaviors behind the wheel.

Shawn Brovold, a masters degree student in mechanical engineering, presented his current work at the November 8 Advanced Transportation Technologies Seminar. Brovold is part of a research project led by professor Steve Simon of the Law School and including ITS Institute director Max Donath and HumanFIRST Program director Nic Ward as co-investigators. The project's goal is to develop an electronic system, based on an onboard computer, to monitor driving behavior and provide feedback—and, if necessary, intervene to prevent dangerous behaviors. The system will also be capable of recording driving behavior for later review by parents or licensing agencies.

Driving at excessive speeds is a common high-risk behavior among teen drivers. A simple approach to preventing speeding would be to make it impossible to accelerate beyond a predetermined speed, but such a strategy presents serious real-world problems because different speeds are appropriate on different roads. Limiting maximum speed to 55 mph would still allow dangerous speeding on residential streets; imposing a 35 mph limit would make driving on highways impossible—or worse, possible but unsafe.

To address the need for different speed limits on different roads, the experimental system under development links the speed limiting function to a digital map (derived from a road-classification database maintained by the Minnesota Department of Transportation) and highly accurate Global Positioning System sensor capable of determining the type of road on which the vehicle is operating. Brovold described the technical challenges in implementing such a system, including building a system accurate enough to distinguish between adjacent roads with different speed classifications, such as a freeway and a frontage road.

The ability to calculate the vehicle's location opens up the possibility of implementing an even more ambitious safety feature: driver warnings and intervention based on road geometry. Young drivers are involved in a disproportionate number of "run-off-the-road" accidents in which the vehicle is unable to negotiate a sharp turn or other unusual road feature, due to the fact that teens lack the driving experience to recognize hazardous conditions until it is too late to adjust. By "looking ahead" to see if the vehicle is approaching a sharp curve or other potentially hazardous road feature, the system could issue a warning to inexperienced drivers before they get into trouble.

Brovold emphasized that in-vehicle technologies by themselves will not eliminate risky driving by teens. The research team envisions their system being used in concert with other measures—such as a graduated licensing system which grants more limited privileges to young drivers and may mandate the use of onboard reporting and intervention systems, enhanced driver education prior to licensing, and proactive enforcement procedures such as a primary safety-belt law. ITS technologies, however, should have an important role to play in making the roads safer for drivers of all ages, and preventing the loss of young lives behind the wheel.