Principal Investigator: Elizabeth Walshe, PhD, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
WHAT WAS THE PURPOSE OF THIS PROJECT?
There is a big movement to develop new devices or autonomous features that could take over control or assist the driver when inattention or losing focus occurs. While exciting, these advances have not yet been validated to see if they improve driving performance.
For example, if an alert or other prompt kicks in to take over control of the wheel, we need to be sure it is delivered in the right way at the right time to improve driver response and not actually create more distraction or hinder response at a critical moment to avoid a crash. There is a knowledge gap in how these technologies work at the brain level.
HOW WAS THE RESEARCH CONDUCTED?
CHOP developed a Magnetoencephalography (MEG)+Driving paradigm that combines the latest in advanced neuroimaging technology with the latest virtual driving assessment, so we can begin to actually see what the brain is doing while a person performs certain driving tasks.
We recruited a pilot sample of teen drivers to put them through the same protocol we used previously with adults to see if it worked for this age group in detecting motor sensory and cognitive brain responses while driving. This pilot study was needed because we were not sure how feasible this would be because the teen brain is quite different than the adult brain, both structurally and functionally, as adolescence is still a period of neural development and maturation.
WHAT DID YOU FIND AND WERE ANY OF THE RESULTS SUPRISING?
We were pleased to see that the teen protocol provided valuable data. We were able to measure the same motor cortex hand and foot area brain responses, as well as the frontal lobe cognitive control brain response (called frontal midline theta) to driving tasks in the teens, as we did in the adults. However, we were surprised to see how variable the frontal lobe cognitive control responses were in the teens: Some teens had really strong frontal midline theta, others had much weaker but measurable theta activation, and some had no measurable frontal midline theta response. This variability may reflect variable frontal lobe function development in adolescence, but it could also reflect differences in engagement with the task. We need to next measure their eye behavior during the same tasks to see where teens are looking at critical moments and if that correlates with their brain responses and driving reactions.
WHAT ARE THE INDUSTRY IMPLICATIONS?
This MEG+Driving paradigm could become a new and very useful tool for the auto industry to test brain responses to new vehicle technologies and settings and to optimize technologies for at-risk driver populations, such as teen drivers. Vehicle safety features designed for adults may not work (or may need to be adapted) for teen drivers.
William Gaetz, PhD, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
Project Team Member
Chelsea Ward McIntosh, MS, CCRP, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
Nicole Wen, Drexel University
Tim Dick, American Honda Motor Co., Inc.; Kelly Funkhouser, Consumer Reports; Dan Glaser, General Motors Holdings LLC; Arjun Yetukuri, Lear Corporation; Jason Stammen, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration; Schuyler St. Lawrence, Toyota USA