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University of Iowa News Release

June 27, 2006

UI Researchers Win $1.5 Million NIH Grant To Study Children's Bike Safety

A team of University of Iowa researchers has won a five-year, $1,530,315 grant from the National Institutes of Health to continue studying how immature perceptual and motor skills put children riding bicycles at risk for being hit by cars when crossing roads.

Led by Jodie Plumert, professor of psychology, the interdisciplinary team from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences includes co-investigators Joseph Kearney and James Cremer, both professors of computer science. With their combined expertise, the team has developed an immersive, interactive bicycling simulator that allows them to observe children as they ride a bike through a virtual environment that includes crossing busy intersections.

The new grant will support research on two important aspects of perceptual-motor development and how they influence road-crossing behavior. The first is coordinating motor movement with visual information. The team's previous studies have shown that children choose the same size gaps between cars as adults, but end up with far less time to spare when they clear the path of the oncoming car. This puts child cyclists at greater risk for a collision because they have less time available to recover from an error such as a foot slipping off the pedal.

The team will also address a second aspect of perceptual-motor development, namely adapting movement to changing circumstances. Skilled road crossing requires that cyclists adjust quickly to changes from one intersection to the next such as the speed and density of the traffic. Children must be sensitive to these changing circumstances and act accordingly in order to avoid a collision.

Bicycle crashes are among the most common causes of severe injuries in late childhood and early adolescence. Motor vehicles are involved in approximately one-third of all bicycle-related brain injuries and in 90 percent of all fatalities resulting from bicycle crashes. The UI team's work to understand why such collisions occur represents a critical step in developing programs to prevent collisions between child cyclists and motor vehicles.

"By bringing together the study of basic and applied issues into a single program of research, this work will contribute both to our understanding of the development of perceptual-motor functioning and to our understanding of the underlying causes of child bicycling injuries," Plumert said.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

CONTACTS: Media: Mary Geraghty Kenyon, 319-384-0011, mary-kenyon@uiowa.edu or Lesly Huffman, 319-384-0077, lesly-huffman@uiowa.edu; Program: Jodie Plumert, 319-335-2477, jodie-plumert@uiowa.edu