UI simulated tractor study looks to better understand causes of - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

UI simulated tractor study looks to better understand causes of teen farming accidents

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Accomplishing the day's work on the Gregoricka family farm in Springville is always a team effort.

"I think just about every farming operation is a family business," said Karen Gregoricka, mother of five.  "When we milk, whatever we're doing, it's always everybody working together."

That means Gregoricka's 12, 14, and 16-year-old sons are responsible for operating a tractor from time to time.

The three boys started at the age of ten on a small skidloader and worked their way up to operating the tractor.  They were supervised closely in the beginning.

"It can be a scary thing, but it's a piece of equipment that the kids need to learn how to use and how to use safely," Karen said.

"My dad's usually watching me, so I don't want to mess up or anything like that," said 12-year-old David Gregoricka.

Now the three boys are taking part in a University of Iowa study to help researchers understand more about teen safety while operating heavy machinery.

88 participants will navigate a tractor through a virtual reality course in a small room at the National Advanced Driving Simulator in Iowa City.

"Ultimately what we're looking at is trying to correlate where a kid is at in their developmental process and how safely they can operate a tractor," said Tim Brown, the principal investigator for the study.

Researchers are gathering data as teens ages ten to 17 drive a simulated course looking at their cognitive development over the years and how that relates to decision making that may lead to errors

"We're looking at what speed do they choose to go, how are they operating the controls of velocity, when are they braking, what are they looking at," Brown said.

The tractor simulator study at the University of Iowa is one of the first of its kind. The goal simply is to give parents another tool to help keep their kids safe on the farm.

Researchers hope the information learned can help prevent future farm accidents.

"I'm not a big fan of heavy-handed regulation coming down and dictating what families need to do, but if they can come up with good information to help families make decisions, that's good," Gregoricka said.

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