Research Priorities

Four Research Focus Areas:

Driver Behavior and Performance

Drivers do many things behind the wheel that put themselves and others at risk. As ever-evolving technology provides more ways to take a driver’s attention off the road, distracted driving has become a bigger problem. The legalization of marijuana in some states has brought the problem of substance-impaired driving to the forefront and while drowsy driving does not get as much media attention as drunk or drugged driving, it can also be fatal. A 2016 AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety study showed that drivers who miss between one to two hours of the recommended seven hours of sleep in a 24-hour period nearly double their risk for a crash. Our research provides insight into the prevalence of these and other problems and possible solutions. The annual traffic safety culture surveys have sparked a national conversation about drivers’ behavior, which often conflicts with what they know to be safe practices.

Emerging Technologies

Cars are becoming smarter as great strides are made in the field of connected and automated vehicle technologies. While advanced driver assistance systems and semi-automated vehicles have the potential to increase safety, many questions remain about these new technologies and concepts before they can be widely deployed. How readily will drivers accept these new features? What are their unintended consequences? What are the safety benefits? The Foundation’s research, including an evaluation of In-Vehicle Infotainment Systems, provide critical insight as industry and government grapple with the issues surrounding evolving connected and automated vehicles.

Roadway Systems and Drivers

An emerging focus for the Foundation is the connection between roadways, infrastructure and traffic safety. The Safety Benefit of Infrastructure Improvements study found that an investment into infrastructure upgrades including converting intersections into roundabouts, installing roadside barriers, and adding more signalized pedestrian crossings has the potential to save an estimated 63,700 lives over 20 years. The Foundation is pursuing other projects that can provide concrete recommendations that will improve design to better accommodate roadway users. Precise design of the roadway systems will play a critical role to support future deployment of connected and automated vehicle technologies.

Vulnerable Road Users

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety is a leader in research around teen and senior driving safety. The Longitudinal Research on Aging Drivers (LongROAD) project is a groundbreaking study tracking nearly 3,000 senior drivers as they age. The project will generate the largest and most comprehensive database about senior drivers in existence and will support in-depth studies of senior driving and mobility to better understand risks and develop effective countermeasures. The Foundation is also helping parents better understand the risk factors for teens on the road. In the most comprehensive research ever conducted into crash videos of teen drivers, the AAA Foundation found distraction was a factor in nearly 6 out of 10 moderate-to-severe teen crashes, which is four times as many as official estimates based on police reports. Using this information like this and other report findings has helped parents equip their teen driver for the road ahead. In the future, the Foundation’s research projects will also include safety of other road users such as pedestrians and cyclists.