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High-risk Teenage Drivers the Focus of $2.8 Million NIH Grant Awarded to UB Researcher

Release Date: May 20, 2010

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UB's Gregory Fabiano has received a $2.8 million grant to expand a project aimed at improving the driving skills of teens with ADHD.

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- University at Buffalo researcher Gregory A. Fabiano has received the green light to continue using a parent-teen therapeutic program and state-of-the-art driving simulator to teach safe driving habits to a group of drivers at the very top of the risk pool: teens with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).

At the same time, Fabiano will help improve these teen's relationships with their parents -- thanks to a $2.8 million grant from the NIH's National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

The grant-funded project -- a joint effort between Fabiano's research team in UB's Graduate School of Education and UB's New York State Center for Engineering Design and Industrial Innovation -- will expand the researchers' work with teenagers with ADHD, a pool of drivers that combine the inexperience of teenagers with a tendency to be distracted.

"We know that 1 in 20 drivers on the road is someone with ADHD, so on any given day, we are all likely to come across a driver who is distracted or impulsive and paying attention to the wrong things on the road," says Fabiano. "So working with these individuals who have known risk-factors will have real public health benefits.

"Simply being a teen driver is one of the biggest risk factors on the road, and adding in ADHD creates a perfect storm of potential negative driving outcomes and crash and injury risk," adds Fabiano, a recipient of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, the nation's highest honor for professionals at the early stages of their independent scientific research careers.

The five-year grant enables Fabiano and his team to keep using UB's high-tech driving simulator when working with teens and their parents. Developed and managed by co-investigators Kevin Hulme and Kemper Lewis in UB's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, the simulator combines the authentic feel of a vehicle interior and shell with computer-generated highways, hazardous intersections and traffics sounds.

The grant will focus on ADHD teenage drivers with learner's permits. And because teaching teens to drive often leads to arguments between parent and child, Fabiano's work also aims to build better communication and more harmonious relationships in a setting that often pushes them further apart.

All drivers in the study will be randomly assigned to one of two groups, Fabiano says. Drivers in all groups will get a driver's education program (UB is partnering with the Automobile Club of Western New York), practice on the driving simulator and be given an onboard driving monitor to track driving behaviors, giving parents and teens the chance to review their driving performance and interactions.

Families in one of the groups will also receive the Supporting a Teen's Effective Entry to the Roadway (STEER) program. Developed by Fabiano, this program teaches parents and teens a more effective way to negotiate issues, communicate more effectively and establish behavior contracts that set contingencies for safe teen driving, Fabiano says.

The other group will not receive the STEER instruction.

UB researchers will follow the progress of both groups and measure driving behaviors, using a camera and recorder installed in their cars, six and 12 months later when the teens are driving on their own.

"We want to know if teaching parents strategies for monitoring and dealing with teenage drivers, as well as teaching teens how to comply with behavioral limits, results in better driving practice and training," Fabiano says.

The grant also gives researchers the opportunity to teach teens about risky situations on the road. For example, some simulator activities will use special "fatal vision" goggles students can wear in the simulator to give them a realistic idea of what driving is like when intoxicated.

"We can use this grant as a preventative approach for teens to show what can happen if they drink and drive," Fabiano says. "A lot of teens think that this can never happen to them, and this is a way to show them they are not immune to the effects of alcohol."

Fabiano also will use the driving simulator to show teens how quickly they can be in a tragic accident when using a cell phone or text messaging.

"Greg continues to make substantial contributions to our understanding on ADHD, research that makes a difference in everyday life," says Mary H. Gresham, dean of the UB Graduate School of Education. "He is exactly the type of faculty member that makes UB a great university."

Parents and family members interested in learning more about Fabiano's research can call his lab at 716-829-2244 ext. 124.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.

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Charles Anzalone
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