Current Projects

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


 Crash Risks of Distracted and Drowsy Driving

Car Crash DamageThe Situation:
The recently completed SHRP naturalistic study provides an opportunity to develop updated estimates of the crash risk associated with distracted and drowsy driving.

The Project:
Investigates the relationship between crash risk and specific tasks associated with driver distractions and drowsiness. The study utilizes a sample of 3,000 drivers in vehicles equipped with cameras, capturing 650 police-reported crashes. Crash observations will be analyzed and compared with non-crash observations from the same drivers to calculate the actual risk associated with specific non-driving tasks the drivers were observed performing.

The Significance:
This project will be the most comprehensive study to date of the real-world crash risks associated with distracted and drowsy driving, to support enhanced education and advocacy efforts. It will also assist in closing a significant gap in research on cognitive distraction.

Effects of Driver Assistance Technology

Lit dash gaugesThe Situation: Advanced driver assistance technologies and the evolution toward autonomous vehicles present a growing opportunity to improve driver safety by alerting drivers to dangerous conditions and relieving drivers of tedious control tasks through automation. Along with these opportunities come new questions about how drivers will adapt to these technologies, and whether there will be any unintended consequences as a result of such technologies, such as driver complacency or declines in driving skills.

The Project: Will evaluate whether there are systematic changes in driver behavior after use of assistance systems, and how observed changes affect safety. The first phase of this effort includes: a literature review, an invitation-only national workshop on driver adaptation, and recommendations for future research.

The Significance: The project will provide guidance to motorists, the industry, and regulators about the utility of safety technologies making their way into the vehicle fleet and moving us closer to autonomous vehicles.

Examining Barriers that Impede State Efforts to Collect Data on Drugged Drivers

Binary data codeThe Situation: The protocol for determining impairment in and prosecuting drugged drivers varies significantly within and between states, and unlike alcohol, there are no standard protocols for testing for drugs in suspected impaired drivers. The lack of standards, combined with various other factors, has led to inadequate data on drugged driving in the United States.

The Project:
Will synthesize published scientific literature on policy and procedural barriers for collecting state data on drugged drivers. The resulting white paper will inform discussion and subsequent recommendations from an expert panel of toxicologists, law enforcement agency leadership, and other traffic safety professionals to prioritize short-and long-term actions for improving data on drugged drivers.

The Significance:
There is universal agreement among national stakeholders that data quality and availability on drugged driving is the single most important next step in addressing the safety issues relative to drugged driving.

Safety Related Defect Investigations – A Scoping Study

Airbag switchThe Situation: The recent flurry of defect investigations, such as GM and Toyota, have highlighted apparent weaknesses in the current process used by NHTSA to identify and investigate potential safety-related defects.

The Project:
Will examine safety-related vehicle defects and recalls program, and how vehicle data and telematics technologies could potentially be harnessed to assist in the identification and investigation of such defects. This scoping study will examine the role of defects in overall traffic fatalities, identify what types of defects could be detected by sensor technology, and which ones could have been detected earlier, among other things.

The Significance:
This project will provide a summary of the current vehicle safety recall process and identify areas warranting additional study of sensor and connected vehicle technologies might support enhanced vehicle safety defect investigations.

Measuring Cognitive Distraction in the Automobile -- Phase 3

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 phase established a scale for rating the levels of cognitive distraction caused by various hands-free tasks performed while driving. Phases 2 and 2A applied this rating system to more tasks in various vehicle manufacturers’ systems. Phase 3 expands the testing of new car systems, examines whether drivers self-regulate their driving in response to higher cognitive demands, and includes participants with a wider range of ages than have previously been studied. An additional study will look at cognitive workload related to driving and using various cell phone systems (electronic assistants).

The Significance: This study will further reinforce the Federation’s status as a leading expert on distracted driving and emerging vehicle technologies. And, it will provide the science for AAA to work with automakers and tech suppliers to ensure responsible implementation of advanced vehicle technologies for the safety of all members.

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 has conducted annual, nationally-representative surveys of the American public since 2008. Now recognized as the authoritative reference on the subject, the Foundation’s survey findings are used to benchmark and track the public’s attitudes and behaviors over time. In 2014, the Foundation will expand the sampling to allow for state-level reporting for 24 states that cover 80% of the U.S. population.

The Significance: The survey findings garner significant media attention, and are used to complement numerous Foundation studies and AAA outreach efforts.

Drugged Driving: Cannabis Studies

The Situation: The legalization of marijuana for medicinal and/or recreational purposes in numerous jurisdictions has shone a spotlight on how little is known about the drug’s effects on driving. As state and Federal policies on cannabis evolve, understanding the potential traffic safety implications will become increasingly important.

The Projects: Two studies will each address a major issue. (1) Researchers will examine the relationship between changes in Washington State cannabis laws and the incidence of cannabis-impaired driving, as well as the relationship between cannabis levels in driver blood samples, in order to understand the relationship between acute cannabis use and motor vehicle crashes. (2) Researchers will examine drug test results from drivers arrested for driving under the influence of cannabis, and fatally injured drivers who tested positive for cannabis, in order to assess the implications of a per se law making it illegal to drive with a certain concentration of cannabis in one’s blood.

The Significance: Study results will help improve our understanding of cannabis-impaired driving, and help AAA and other organizations determine their policies. It will also help states by providing an evaluation of the effect of legalizing marijuana and introducing a per se limit.

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 sole 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 provide AAA with key insight into the driving habits and trends of the motoring public generally. It will also generate a unique database that will substantially enhance Foundation studies, by filling a major knowledge gap with regard to how often and how far people are driving.


Understanding the Safety and Mobility Needs of Tomorrow's Older Drivers - The LongROAD Study

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: Titled the LongROAD study (Longitudinal Research on Aging Drivers), this 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 and medication use on safe driving, specific risk factors (e.g., deteriorating vision), circumstances surrounding driving cessation, and mobility options for seniors who no longer drive. The project is now operational at 5 sites across the country.

The Significance: This study will provide AAA with the scientific backing needed to advocate for effective policies and programs. The database it creates will also serve as a “go-to” resource for answering the most pressing questions about senior safety and mobility for years to come.

Driving Check Ups: Expanding the Continuum of Services Available to Assist Senior Drivers

Windshield viewThe Situation: Driving school based in-car evaluations are a potentially useful tool for enhancing older driver safety, offering an opportunity to provide feedback and referral , as necessary, to educational resources aimed at improving safety and extending driving years for healthy older adults, while also identifying medically-impaired drivers and directing them to appropriate services. Currently there are no widely recognized guidelines on how to conduct in-car evaluations of older drivers, and no standardized protocols for identifying or assisting drivers with cognitive or other impairments who require specialized services.

The Project: Would develop a model in-car driving evaluation program. The program will include an interview, pre-drive screen and on-road component, and evaluators will use a decision tree to determine whether or not to recommend additional services. This proactive and positive option will be feasible for implementation by AAA clubs, driving schools and other organizations in collaboration with appropriate healthcare professionals.

The Significance: This research would address how a model program would complement and support more comprehensive clinical driving assessments, such as those offered by occupational therapy driving rehabilitation specialists. It will be critical to establish firm guidelines regarding how drivers with cognitive disabilities are identified before an in-vehicle evaluation and how often drivers will be referred to a more appropriate agency and/or more formal clinical driving assessment. Findings will reinforce AAA’s commitment to understanding the unique needs of older drivers, and complement and support other driving programs aimed at supporting older drivers as this population expands.



Accelerating Teen Driver Learning: Anywhere, Anytime Training

DrivingThe Situation: The Foundation seeks to build upon recent advances in research into important differences between novice drivers versus more experienced drivers.

The Project: Would integrate three existing computer-based training modules into a single package that could be accessed from any web browser, including mobile phones. The intervention’s usability and functionality would be pilot-tested, and a small-scale evaluation on a driving simulator would be performed to verify successful learning outcomes.

The Significance: Based on previous research on each of the three training modules, it is quite likely that this new training product may represent a legitimate breakthrough in novice driver training that could lead to significant reductions in traffic crashes among members of this high-risk group.

Accelerating Driving Expertise through Perceptual and Adaptive Learning

SimulatorThe Situation: The Foundation seeks to build upon recent advances in research into important differences between novice drivers versus more experienced drivers.

The Project: Would take advantage of advanced learning technologies successfully used in a wide array of other fields to accelerate the rate at which novice drivers gain critical skills and insights typically developed over years of independent driving. The technologies and methods proposed, perceptual and adaptive learning, have been applied with significant success in fields ranging from algebra to aviation.

The Significance: If this research can show accelerated acquisition of expertise by novice drivers through perceptual and adaptive learning, it would represent a legitimate breakthrough in driver education and training, that might lead to significant reductions in traffic crashes among members of this high-risk group could result.

Evaluation of Connecticut’s 3-Month Learner Requirement for Older Novices

ManualThe Situation: Most U.S. states completely exempt new drivers ages 18 and older from all GDL requirements. Connecticut recently implemented a requirement for new drivers aged 18 and older to apply for a learner’s permit and are required to hold the permit for a minimum of 3 months before they can apply for a license. Although the Foundation believes it is unlikely this “short intervention” have any meaningful safety benefit, it does believe it is important to evaluate this provision for drivers aged 18 years or older.

The Project: Would evaluate the effects of a new requirement in the state of Connecticut for all new drivers age 18 and older to hold a learner’s permit for a minimum of 3 months before being eligible to apply for a full license, on both the timing of licensure and on the crash rates of novice drivers.

The Significance: GDL programs have proven to be effective in reducing the crash rates of 16-year-old drivers, but many drivers obtain licensure outside of GDL age requirements and do not take advantage of the safety benefits GDL was designed to provide. This study will provide guidance to states considering this type of provision.