- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
State and Southern Maryland traffic safety and planning officials gathered Wednesday to find out what the data of the DriveCam program revealed about teen driving habits.
The DriveCam program recruited 221 Southern Maryland participants ages 16 to 20 and their parents to place a camera above the rearview mirror of a teenager’s main vehicle for one year. The camera records images for about 10 seconds of both the driver and the driver's view of the road. The camera is triggered by sudden movements like hard braking or swerving and rapid acceleration, which is called an “event.”
The monitoring began in August 2008 for some of the participants and the program finished the data collection in September 2010. Calvert had 115 participants.
Cindy Burch of the National Study Center for Trauma and EMS, the agency that was tasked to collect, assess and evaluate the data for the program's sponsor, Maryland Highway Safety Office, gave a thorough PowerPoint presentation explaining the registration process that had both the participants and their parents fill out detailed surveys about their lifestyles, styles of parenting and perceptions of high-risk behaviors.
Given its population, Southern Maryland is overrepresented in teen crashes, injuries and fatalities in the state, she said, and that’s why the area was selected for the program, which awarded Tri-County Council for Southern Maryland a grant for its assistance.
The research looked at the data in a scientific way to find out “what would help make these teens better drivers,” Burch said.
During the program, 22,000 events were recorded, which Burch said seemed like a lot, but as the date was analyzed, it became clear that five participants were responsible for a high percentage of the total number of events.
“When you do the numbers, most of them didn’t have a lot of events,” Burch said. Videos of events such as near rear-end collisions, swerving across white lines and drivers being inattentive were shown without sound and narrated by Burch.
“We have a fair amount of people talking on their cellphones,” she said, and she noted that after about a week or two they seemed to have forgotten about the camera.
The study followed scientific protocol and divided the participants into three groups, one that had the cameras on the entire time and recorded events, one group that had the camera on only for the first six months and the third group having the camera on for the last six months. When the camera was on and an event was recorded, a report on the event was sent to the parents. After showing a graph that showed significantly fewer events during the times the drivers knew the camera would record them, Burch concluded, “It does appear that the monitoring works.”
Debbie Jennings, coordinator for the Calvert County Traffic Safety Council, asked Burch if they found anything that was unexpected, and Burch answered that the study helped validate that parental involvement in driving is a tool that helps young drivers. After the presentation, Jennings said she is looking forward to reviewing the results of the research to find out ways parents may be able to help their teens improve their driving.
“I’m glad to have been able to offer this program to the families,” she said.
In the study, events were categorized to reflect if they were due to recklessness, the weather, lighting condition and the type of road, and if the driver was traveling at an unsafe speed, following too closely or committing a traffic violation. The data showed an unsafe speed attributed to 93 percent of the events, and 84 percent of the events involved an improper turn or curve. Aggressive driving was cited for 24 percent of the events; recklessness was determined to be the cause of 1 percent of the events.
The study categorized 107 different types of distraction, ranging from the weather, social influences like talking or texting on phones or to passengers, and eating or drinking, and recorded 1,965 events were due to some kind of distraction. However, Burch noted that 27 percent of the distracted driver events were caused by five people, and 15 people caused 51 percent of the distracted driver events.
“We had some crazy people,” she said.
Seat belt usage also was tracked: The study revealed that when the driver is not belted, half of the passengers are not belted, but when the driver is belted only 13 percent are not belted.
“It was statistically significant,” Burch said.
During exit interviews, 88 percent of the parents rated the experience positively, and although many of the teenagers were reluctant to participate in the beginning, she said 85 percent of the teens responded positively to the reports that were sent to the parents after an event.