June 10, 2012
Could hitting the gym do more than just burn a few calories? Researchers at the University of Virginia are looking to see if staying in shape can keep teens safe behind the wheel.
The theory is that teens who are more physically fit have a higher executive function, meaning they are able to control risky behavior and make good decisions. Researchers are hoping to prove that they are in turn better drivers as well.
"We're hoping that these relationships are actually there, because it would give us justification that physical activity and physical fitness may actually improve cognition for teenagers," said Ann Lambert, a research assistant. It especially holds true for teens just learning to drive.
"If you look at driving across the lifespan, and you look at fatal crashes across the lifespan, you find that when teens first get their license [the number of crashes] are very high and they very quickly drop," said Lambert.
One hundred new drivers will be measured to see how physically fit they are. Then they will be tested on both driving abilities and brain function. Finally the participating teens will be asked to report on any crashes or risky behavior.
"The automated phone system will be calling them every two weeks, to ask them about driving mishaps, close calls traffic tickets," explained Lambert. They are hoping the clinical trial, will have lasting results.
"If we can find any sort of intervention that can keep them safe behind the wheel then we would have the power to save lives," said Lambert. Right now researchers are in the process of finding participants, they are hoping to use students from Albemarle High School.