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Shannon Roberts Offers Vital Tips About Teen Drivers on WalletHub

Shannon Roberts

Shannon Roberts

Assistant Professor Shannon Roberts of the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering (MIE) Department recently shared some well-worded and well-considered advice about teenage drivers on WalletHub. Roberts and her research group study human factors in transportation safety with a special focus on teenage driving.

As Roberts has explained about her MIE research team, “We are interested in studying how a variety of factors affect teenage driving performance. For example, we study how teenage driver training differs between those of different populations (e.g., males versus females). We also study how passengers affect teenage driving behavior; e.g., does your best friend who sits next to you in the car encourage you to engage in safe or unsafe behavior? With this information, we can design appropriate training and feedback systems to improve teenage driving behavior.”

Roberts has just been elected as an At-Large Member of the Executive Council for the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES) and recently received the Bentzi Karsh Early Career Service Award from that society “for demonstrating outstanding contributions to HFES through professional service and outreach activities as a student and early-career professional.” Much of her research is also carried out in the UMass College of Engineering Human Performance Laboratory.

Among many other gems of advice that Roberts gave the parents of teen drivers in the WalletHub spread was this: “First, perfect practice makes perfect. Try to practice driving with your teen driver in a variety of driving situations and environments. You want to expose [him or her] to as many driving scenarios as possible.”

Roberts added that “If you consistently practice driving the same route when there is perfect weather, when your teen driver encounters something different — for example, a highway, a busy downtown area with pedestrians, or heavy rain — [he or she] will not know what to do. Yet, these new environments tend to present the greatest crash risk for teen drivers.”

Roberts also sent this very pointed “practice what you preach” message to parents of teens. “Model appropriate driving behavior for your children. Children as young as two or three notice what you are doing while driving and, as they get older, they will emulate your habits. If you frequently use a cell phone while driving, do not wear your seat belt, etc., your teen driver will do the same. It is not enough to just tell them what to do - you have to practice it as well.”

In addition, Roberts zeroed-in on the biggest risks for teen drivers, distracted driving and speeding.

“Teens get distracted by technology, objects external to the vehicle (e.g., a billboard), as well as passengers in the car,” explained Roberts. “To prevent distracted driving, have rules in place, set consequences for breaking the rules, and model the correct behavior. Another option is to use cell phone blocking applications.”

Roberts concluded that “Regarding speeding, the faster the vehicle is moving, the longer it takes the vehicle to stop in the case of an emergency. To prevent speeding, have your teen drive the family car versus [his or her] own personal vehicle — teens speed less when they know they are in a shared vehicle.”

(October 2022)