The AAA Foundation is currently working on several projects in each of its four research focus areas: safety culture, senior safety and mobility, teen driver safety, and road safety. This page contains a brief synopsis of each study, and is updated periodically as milestones are achieved. (Note: to access completed research reports, fact sheets, and presentations, visit Completed Projects.)
Should you have questions, or if you are interested in learning more about the Foundation’s work, you are welcome to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Measuring Cognitive Distraction in the Automobile -- Phase II
The Situation: The prevalence and sophistication of in-car infotainment and communications technologies are skyrocketing, and many are marketed as safe by virtue of being hands-free.
The Project: In this study, the AAA Foundation and its partners at the University of Utah are applying cutting-edge methods to evaluate the mental elements of driver distraction. The first study phase established a scale for rating the levels of cognitive distraction caused by various hands-free tasks performed while driving. Phase II is applying this rating system to more tasks related to driver use of in-car technologies, and is also comparing six different vehicle manufacturers’ systems.
The Significance: By isolating the cognitive elements of driver distraction, this study is confirming and expanding the findings from earlier research that “hands-free” doesn’t mean “risk-free.” It is also providing the scientific evidence needed to work toward safe, responsible implementation of advanced communications and infotainment technologies in new vehicles.
Assessment of Crash Causation and Contributing Factors Using Naturalistic Driving Data
The Situation: Many causes of crashes—such as distracted or drowsy driving—are widely under-reported in federal crash data, because this information comes from police reports. Thus, the true risk factors associated with many dangerous behaviors are not truly well understood.
The Project: This study will analyze video footage of thousands of crashes captured on in-vehicle cameras in a large sample of vehicles, examining in unprecedented detail the true crash causation factors as seen before and during the crash, rather than after the fact. The project initially focuses on distracted and drowsy driving. A complementary in-house study will analyze the police reports associated with a sample of the crashes captured on video, thus providing a unique insight into the comprehensiveness and accuracy of police reports.
The Significance: Project findings are expected to greatly enhance our understanding of the dangers posed by various risky behaviors, allowing the Foundation to speak with greater authority on the true causes and contributing factors of traffic crashes.
Evaluating Technologies Relevant to the Enhancement of Driver Safety
The Situation: Car buyers today can select from a wide range of optional safety technologies when purchasing a new vehicle, such as lane departure warnings, forward collision mitigation, and “smart” cruise control. However, these systems are proliferating faster than their safety benefits have been evaluated, and consumers don’t yet have a trusted source for determining which are truly worthwhile investments that fit their needs and budgets.
The Project: Conducted at the MIT AgeLab, this study is developing a consumer-facing rating system that will empower car buyers to assess, compare, and make educated purchasing decisions about safety technologies. Once validated, the system will be used to rate seven popular technologies in this initial phase.
The Significance: This project will help guide the public toward the safety features that are truly effective and, in doing so, speed the implementation of technologies that can save the most lives.
Describing LATCH "Ease of Use" and Key Features for Vehicles
The Situation: As many as three out of four child safety seats are installed incorrectly or used improperly, and more than 140,000 children are injured in traffic crashes each year. To address this, the Lower Anchors and Tethers for CHildren (LATCH) system has been required equipment on all new vehicles and child safety seats since 2002. However, recent research has pointed to concerns and opportunities regarding LATCH ease of use and effectiveness.
The Project: This project is evaluating how effectively ease-of-use principles are incorporated into the design features of LATCH, and how well these features serve their intended purpose.
The Significance: These project findings will help inform Federal rulemaking in this area. A white paper, report, survey of child passenger safety technicians, and seating position fatality study will all be generated by this effort.
The Traffic Safety Culture Index
The Situation: Since 2005, the AAA Foundation has been committed to studying and improving the nation’s “traffic safety culture,” with the ultimate goal of fostering a society that values and rigorously pursues safety for all road users. Now perhaps our signature issue, the AAA Foundation leads the national dialogue on this important subject.
The Project: To study and benchmark traffic safety culture, the AAA Foundation conducts annual, nationally- representative surveys of the American public. Now in its sixth year, this survey is recognized as the authoritative reference on the subject. The Foundation uses the findings to benchmark and track the public’s attitudes and behaviors over time.
The Significance: Traffic Safety Culture Index findings support outreach and public education efforts, especially during key events and holidays.
National Survey of Driving Habits and Trends
The Situation: Timely data on the amount, type, and circumstances of Americans' driving (i.e., exposure to risk) is vital to understanding traffic safety. Currently, the only source for such information is a large federal survey conducted only once every 7-8 years.
The Project: The objective of this in-house effort is to collect nationally-representative data on the driving habits of the American public, by surveying 4,200 drivers annually.
The Significance: This project will yield a unique database of the most up-to-date road travel information available, and will substantially enhance AAA Foundation safety studies.
SENIOR SAFETY AND MOBILITY
Understanding the Safety and Mobility Needs of Tomorrow's Older Drivers
The Situation: The U.S. Census Bureau reports that 10,000 people will turn 65 every day from now until 2030. Understanding the safety and mobility needs of these newly-minted seniors is a pressing concern.
The Project: This long-term project will generate a wealth of data by tracking a large group of older drivers (roughly 3,000) for an extended period of 5-10 years. This will shed light on the effects of aging on safe driving, specific risk factors (e.g., prescription drug use, deteriorating vision, etc.), circumstances surrounding driving cessation, and mobility options for seniors who no longer drive.
The Significance: By examining the factors that can help older drivers achieve lifelong safe mobility, this study will provide the scientific backing needed to implement effective policies and programs, and will support fair treatment of older drivers. The database it creates will also serve as a unique, “go-to” resource for answering the most pressing questions about senior safety and mobility for years to come.
State Motor Vehicle License Renewal Policies and Fatal Crash Rates of Older Drivers
The Situation: State policies pertaining to older driver licensing and renewal vary widely, and it’s not clear which are the most effective at saving lives while also allowing seniors to drive for as long as safely possible. With the coming “silver tsunami,” promoting the twin goals of safety and mobility for older Americans will only become more vital.
The Project: This in-house study will analyze state-by-state crash data to estimate the effectiveness of various state motor vehicle license renewal policies and laws on the crash involvement rates of older drivers. Examples include the length of the renewal period, requirement for in-person renewal (vs. online or by mail), and vision requirements, among others.
The Significance: While driving is a privilege, mobility is a right. The findings from this study will support and facilitate advocacy for the most effective and fair license renewal policies for older Americans.
TEEN DRIVER SAFETY
Exploring a New Source of Unique Traffic Enforcement Data
The Situation: Since 2010, Data Driven Safety, Inc. has been collecting driver-level traffic violation and conviction data from thousands of jurisdictions across the country, and the AAA Foundation has been offered research-related use of this unique database.
The Project: The Foundation is conducting in-house studies that examine enforcement of teen Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) night and passenger restrictions, as well as cell phone/texting bans. Subsequently, we expect to expand this research to examine other issues.
The Significance: This unique study will answer key questions about the enforcement of safety laws, an area about which few studies have been conducted. This will provide valuable insight to advocates and policymakers looking to strengthen teen driver and other traffic laws.
Large Scale Evaluation of Beginner Driver Education Programs
The Situation: Beginner driver education has experienced a significant decline over the past few decades. Resources have dried up for programs, and fewer and fewer states even require it for soon-to-be-licensed novices.
The Project: This project, the most comprehensive evaluation of driver’s ed since the mid-’80s, seeks to address the fact that existing research casting doubt on driver education suffered from poor methodologies. The objective is to determine if driver’s ed produces safety benefits, and to examine which program aspects are effective. Work is being conducted in Oregon and Manitoba.
The Significance: This study will inform efforts to enhance driver education’s safety benefits, and better coordinate it with state licensing procedures (including implementing the NHTSA Administrative Standards for driver’s ed).
Examining the Safety Implications of Later Licensure: Crash Rates of Older vs. Younger Novice Drivers in Three States with Differing GDL Systems
The Situation: Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) systems have been shown to reduce crashes and fatalities of 16- and 17-year-old drivers. However, in most states, GDL systems do not apply to new drivers aged 18 or older. Recent Foundation research shows that a large number of young people delay getting their first driver’s license, and that at least one third of novice drivers therefore get licensed outside the protective bounds of GDL.
The Project: This research will examine the crash involvement rates of new drivers of different ages in three states: California, North Carolina, and New Jersey. This study will provide new insights into the benefits or risks associated with beginning to drive at older vs. younger ages, as well as on the potential effects of extending GDL systems to new drivers ages 18 and older.
The Significance: GDL is one of the most significant achievements in teen driver safety. This project will help guide the way to more effective GDL systems based on today’s licensing trends.
usRAP: The U.S. Road Assessment Program
The Situation: Presently, there is no nationally-implemented system—akin to well-known AAA Diamond Ratings for hotels or government star ratings for vehicle crashworthiness—for assessing the safety performance of roads and highway networks. This makes it harder to set performance targets, and impedes data-informed investments in safety. It also means the general public is largely uninformed about the levels of risk on the roadways they drive daily.
The Project: Since 2004, the AAA Foundation has been developing, piloting, and now implementing the U.S. Road Assessment Program (usRAP), which assesses and benchmarks the relative safety of roads. Program tools include the Road Protection Score, which can identify road segments with higher crash potential through video log analysis of design features that are strongly correlated with the risk of serious crashes. More importantly, the RPS produces a “safety investment plan” that provides cost-effective options (road safety improvements) for road authorities to consider in order to lower the risks identified. In fact, such an effort in Genesee County, MI won a 2013 National Roadway Safety Award, presented by the Federal Highway Administration and Roadway Safety Foundation.
The Significance: Presently, usRAP is moving to operationalize the program across the country, and is pursuing several efforts. At its core, the program provides evidence-based guidance so that state and local road safety investments are linked to reductions in real-world risk. Additional efforts—such as developing a navigation app that would allow motorists to select the safest route for their journey—will yield consumer-facing opportunities to make roads safer for all motorists.
- Media Center