UI bike simulator provides insight on children's decision making - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

UI bike simulator provides insight on children's decision making

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IOWA CITY (KWWL) -

Audrey Heath and her 12-year-old son Tyler of Iowa City are beginning to train to ride in part of this year's RAGBRAI®.

"It's going to be hard," Tyler said.

Their training time is a good time to talk about safety out on the roads.

"As we come up to intersections, I'm instructing him what to do, how to handle the traffic what to look for," Audrey said.

Research indicates there's need for these precautions.  Every year, thousands of children on bikes are injured in collisions with cars. 

A bike simulator in a small room in a University of Iowa research lab brings in children to ride the realistic virtual course.  Computers collect information on the biker's speed, steering angle, and placement among traffic.  This information gives researchers insight into a child's decision making in crossing an intersection.

"That allows us to look at things like what size gaps do they choose to cross, what types of ways do they time their movement, and how much time to spare do they have," said Jodie Plumert, UI psychology professor and chair.

The study has found kids are choosing gaps in traffic similar to adults but don't always have the same ability to make it across safely.

"Parents when they're bicycling with their kids, they might work on, on making sure kids are choosing wider gaps," Plumert said.

As the Heath's know, it's a conversation worth having before the year's big biking event.

Researchers will soon add a second simulator which will help study social influences on children biking.

Numerous grants help make the research possible.

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