A simulator may make driving safer for teens with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder by training them to take shorter glances away from the roadway.
Focused Concentration and Attention Learning (FOCAL) is a computer-based program that teaches teens to keep their eyes on the road. For this study, funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, a driving simulator was added to give students immediate feedback.
The researchers, led by Jeffery Epstein of Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, called the combined training FOCAL+.
The 76 teens who participated in FOCAL+ had a nearly 40% lower risk for a crash or near crash compared to those in a control group who did not do the training, the study found.
For the training, those in the FOCAL+ group were shown a split screen. The top half of the screen displayed a driver's perspective of a roadway. The bottom half displayed a map.
Participants were shown a street name and told to touch the space bar to identify the street on the map, causing the roadway to disappear. Pressing the key a second time restored the map. Toggling between the two represented multitasking while driving.
When the map-only screen was displayed for more than three seconds, an alarm sounded. In a subsequent trial, the alarm sounded after two seconds.
In the simulator training that followed, participants sat at a console with a steering wheel and pedals, and "drove" on a simulated roadway. They wore specialized glasses that tracked eye and head movements, and were asked to identify the number of random symbols on the dashboard.
An alarm sounded if they looked away from the roadway for more than two seconds. Those who scored poorly repeated the exercise until their scores improved.
Researchers evaluated participants from both groups one month after completing the program. On average, the FOCAL+ group took about 16.5 long glances, compared to 28 in the control group.
After six months, the FOCAL+ group had 15.7 long glances, compared to 27 in the control group.
Researchers also equipped participants' vehicles with cameras in order to assess their driving for a year.
Drivers in the FOCAL+ group had 76% fewer long glances than the control group. The rate of crashes and near crashes in the FOCAL+ group was 3.4%, compared to 5.6% for the control group.
While teen drivers are four times as likely to be in a crash as adult drivers, teens with ADHD are twice as likely to be in a crash as neurotypical teens, the study noted.
The findings were published Nov. 30 in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on ADHD.
SOURCE: U.S. National Institutes of Health, news release, Nov. 30, 2022