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


The Establishment of the Center for Distraction Research

The Situation: Driver distraction caused by visual, manual, or cognitive interactions unrelated to the operation of the automobile is a significant source of crashes on the roadway. Dr. Strayer’s prior work (Research Phases I-III), funded by AAAFTS, focused on cognitive-only sources of distraction and supported the development of a distraction scale to rate common in-vehicle interactions such as using voice-based technology to control infotainment features while driving.

The Project: The Research Center will be designed to apply the expanded cognitive, visual, and manual distraction rating scale to the regular evaluation of new vehicles. Over the duration of this effort, researchers will evaluate new vehicles in a stationary setting and a strategically selected subset of new vehicles in an on-road setting.

The Significance: The aim of this project is to provide drivers, vehicle manufacturers, and government regulators, clear and unbiased information and a rating scale on the usability and distraction potential of new in-vehicle technologies.

Truck Safety Policy: Leveraging Technology and Engineering to Realize Safety Gains

The Situation: An important debate has continued for decades about whether to increase federal limits on the size and weight of large trucks traveling U.S. roadways.

The Project:
Methodologically, this project will conduct a thorough literature review to compile estimates of technology effectiveness, review those estimates by a panel of experts, and develop a statistical model to estimate the overall costs and benefits associated with technology implementation.

The Significance: 
This project will estimate the benefits and costs of a variety of truck safety technologies.


Crash Risk of Smartphone Use While Driving 

Cell Phone UserThe Situation: The first landmark study of cell phone exposure crash risk study was completed in 1997 showed a quadrupled risk for the driver being involved in a crash, but strides in smartphone technology and the acclimation of drivers to cell phone use suggests that crash risk will be different nearly 20 years later.

The Project:
The current study will analyze a large sample of naturalistic driving data, laying the groundwork for a very rigorous study using epidemiological methods to compare smartphone use in crashes to smartphone use during ordinary (non-crash) driving under similar driving conditions. At a minimum, the study will investigate handheld vs. hands-free smartphone conversations as well as manual interaction.

The Significance:
This study will produce what will undoubtedly be the best, most credible, most authoritative estimates of crash risk of smartphone use while driving.

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.

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 eighth 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. Several issue-specific findings have been released this year. The next annual report is due Q1 of 2017.

The American Driving Survey

The Situation: Timely data on the amount, type, and circumstances of Americans' driving (i.e., exposure to risk) is vital to understanding traffic safety. The only publicly available source for such information is a large federal survey conducted only once every 7-8 years.

The Project: The objective of this ongoing effort is to collect nationally-representative data on the driving habits of the American public, by surveying approximately 3,000 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 stud-ies.


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. Under-standing 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. Analysis of this data 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. Several reports are planned throughout 2016.

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

Windshield viewThe Situation: 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: 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.

The Significance: Addresses how a model program would complement and support more comprehensive clinical driving assessments.  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.



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.

Improving Teen Driver Safety Evaluating the Impact of Orientation Sessions for Parents of Young Novice Drivers

The Situation: Research has shown that the more engaged parents are in their teen’s learning-to-drive process, the lower the teen’s risk. In addition to supervised driving hours, some states now require or incentivize parents to attend a special session that is intended to help prepare them to teach and mentor their teen. 
The Project: The proposed study would recruit samples of teens and parents for each program, as well as others for comparison who do not participate in the program, and would investigate the impact of the programs on parent’s knowledge and understanding of key teen driving issues as well as the amount of time spent practicing driving, the conditions under which the teens drove, and communication between the parents and teens.
The Significance: Researchers will seek to evaluate some of the more promising programs that they are able to identify and examine parents’ direct experience with these sessions, which include the actions parents take to manage their teens’ learning-to-drive process. Evaluation results should provide safety advocates the science to promote effective parent session programs. 

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.

Extending GDL: Studies in Michigan and New Jersey

The Situation: GDL programs have proven to be effective in reducing the crash rates of 16-year old drivers but many drivers obtain licensure outside GDL age requirements and do not take advantage of the safety benefits GDL was designed to provide.

The Project: The New Jersey project will analyze linked crash data  and driver licensing data from  the state of New Jersey to investigate specific crash types and scenarios for new drivers, licensed at ages 18, 19, 20, and 21-25, compared with those of younger novice drivers who are licensed at age 17, with emphasis on  factors that the GDL system addresses or that a modified GDL system could address. The Michigan project will investigate the crash rates and types of new drivers aged 18 and older in the state of Michigan by analyzing crash data. Analysis of crash data will compare the crash rates, initially and over time, of new drivers licensed at older vs. younger ages, and identify specific crash types and scenarios that appear to be of particular concern for older novice drivers and could be addressed via GDL.

The Significance:  This research would illuminate what a GDL program designed for older novice drivers should entail for greatest impact and potential for crash and injury prevention



Safety Benefits of Highway Infrastructure Investments 

Traffic Lights and Construction SignsThe Situation: There is a large body of strong evidence showing that simple changes in roadway design and safety features can have profound effects on rates of crashes, injuries, and deaths.

The Project: This project will document current knowledge about the safety benefits of highway infrastructure improvements; illustrate those benefits through development of case studies; estimate the national needs, costs, and safety benefits for specific highway infrastructure improvement types; and recommend the appropriate uses of star rating targets for application to highway infrastructure improvement programs in the United States.

The Significance: The research will demonstrate that highway infrastructure improvements play an important role in reducing fatal and serious injury crashes. It will use the safer roads investment plans, developed for usRAP to quantify the highway infrastructure improvements that could be implemented and the safety benefits that could be obtained from improvement of similar roads nationwide. 


Leveraging & Enhancing Alcohol Countermeasures to Reduce Drugged Driving

Pills, Alcohol, Keys

The Situation: Countermeasures used to address alcohol-impaired driving may also be effective for drug-impaired driving; however, there is limited research on the effectiveness of these countermeasures for that purpose.

The Project: This project will systematically evaluate the efficacy of alcohol-impaired driving countermeasures to determine their applicability for deterring and/or identifying drug-impaired drivers. A detailed literature review to identify and evaluate existing alcohol and drug countermeasures will be conducted, as well as analyses on countermeasures that exhibit empirical/evidence based support. National workshops with subject matter experts will help identify countermeasures best suited for application to drug-impaired driving, and detail their functionality, application, misuse, and usefulness.

The Significance: The research will distinguish areas of opportunity to adapt, adopt, and improve specific alcohol countermeasures that can best be used to identify and deter drug impaired driving.

Properly and Effectively Adjudicating Drugged Drivers
The Situation: The U.S. judicial system has a weak understanding of issues relative to drugged driving, and may be inappropriately sentencing individuals, which contributes to recidivism and increased risk to the driving public from drugged drivers.
The Project: This project will create a six-week online course with a series of interactive self-study modules and live programming for judges and prosecutors across the country. The course will meet the needs of those key individuals who need the best information about adjudicating drugged driving cases but are unable to attend an in-person course.
The Significance: This research project will involve a partnership with the nation’s leading providers of judicial educational programs to educate judicial officers and create more consistent adjudication of drugged drivers nationwide. And, once developed and implemented, the course will clearly satisfy a real need identified by national experts in the field.