Seventh grader conducts research on texting and driving

Ashley Gerenday

KentWired Video

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Video by Jacob Byk.

While some graduate students may crack under the pressure of conducting a research study, seventh grade student Jackson Tankersley, 13, took on a study of his own.

In September, Jackson conducted a study about texting while driving in Kent State’s Educational Psychology Lab.

Jackson is a student at the National Inventors Hall of Fame Center for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Learning, an Akron public school for children interested in science, engineering and mathematics.

“I have always loved science,” Jackson said. “I’ve always wanted to conduct a professional research study.”

Jackson’s mother, Melody Tankersley, Provost Fellow at Kent State University, agreed.

“He’s always loved science,” she said. “When he was three, he asked for a science lab in the basement and that it had a door with a lock. I was really afraid Homeland Security was going to come in.”

Students can enter the school, by a lottery drawing, in fifth grade. Students are required to create a project for the science fair each year.

Jackson previously conducted studies on junk mail and which water source would be best to drink if stranded in the wilderness and different purification methods.

“I was boiling urine at one point. I never thought I’d do that,” Melody said.

This year’s study was his most complex project.

Tankersley uses voice texting when he sends a message, which prompted him to question whether or not this was just as dangerous as typing text messages while driving.

“I had been seeing a lot of reports in the news about crashes that involved texting and driving,” Jackson said. “I wanted to do a study that would be interesting but would also be able to help people.”

Melody recalled that Christopher Was, associate professor of Educational Psychology and Director of the Educational Psychology Lab, had previously conducted a study where he used a machine to detect eye gaze patterns in children with different disabilities.

“Jackson came to me, and he had an idea for a study,” Was said. “He realized that there were some big questions about driving while texting and that it was obviously very dangerous.”

Was agreed to serve as Jackson’s principle advisor on the project. The pair conducted the research in the Educational Psychology Lab, which Was founded seven years ago.

“Chris was phenomenal,” Melody said. “Chris never took over, and he let Jackson figure it out. He was really patient and supportive of him throughout the whole process.”

Was explained the voice command texting technology that Jackson was interested in researching would soon be placed in cars in order to eliminate some of the dangers of manually texting while driving.

With this information, he set out to find if voice command texting was just as dangerous as manual texting while driving. He launched his research study, “TXT U L8R: The Effect of Manual Texting and Voice Command Texting on Driving Performance.”

“I was worried he wouldn’t be able to do it,” Melody said. “But he figured out a really cool thing.”

Jackson gathered his data by using a driving simulator that was on loan from the psychology department. Six female Kent State students served as his research participants.

When research participants arrived, they were asked to fill out a consent form as well as a pre-driving risk perception assessment and self-assessment.

Participants completed a practice course first. After, they navigated through a 15-minute driving course. While driving, they received messages at six predetermined points in the course and were asked to respond to them. The types of messages were randomized between no text, voice text and manual text. By using the driving simulator, Jackson was able to monitor the amount of time spent looking away from the road and how many driving errors were made.

After completing the course, the participants filled out a post-driving risk perception assessment and self-assessment.

“It was interesting that before the participants did the simulator, they rated voice texting as not as dangerous as manual texting,” Jackson said. “But after the simulation, they rated both as pretty dangerous.”

Jackson’s data showed that drivers looked away from the road 47.6% of the time while manually texting. Voice texting while driving was almost equally as dangerous with drivers looking away from the road 43.4% of the time.

“The best part about conducting this study was getting the chance to save thousands of lives with the knowledge my project holds,” Jackson said.

After he finished collecting data in December, Jackson presented his findings Jan. 26, at the 57th Annual Akron Public Schools 2013 Science, Math and Technology Expo where he received a superior rating, the highest possible. His rating qualifies him to move on to the Western Reserve District 5 Science Day in March. Jackson hopes he will make it to the state science fair.

He will present his findings at two other science fairs in the Akron area before gearing up for next year.

“I’m starting to think about my topic for next year’s science fair already,” Jackson said. “I don’t know what I’ll do yet, but I hope it will be as cool as this one.”

Contact Ashley Gerenday at [email protected].