September 14, 2012
Researchers who hope to keep children driving tractors safe are turning to a state-of-the-art driving simulator to help determine when kids can safely operate farm equipment.
Scientists at the University of Iowa and the Marshfield Clinic in Wisconsin are looking at how children of different ages process information and make decisions while driving tractors in a first-of-its-kind study of cognitive development skills.
Eighty-eight farm children with tractor experience will hop in the cab of a commonly used John Deere tractor to take a virtual drive within the next month. A movie screen wraps around the tractor, projecting life-like images of their surroundings. The children, ages 10 to 17, will mow fields, navigate hills and maneuver around buildings, people and vehicles. They'll drive along gravel roads in traffic, merge, stop at intersections and pass cars.
All the while, software will record their every move, including speeds, use of brakes, acceleration and eye movements. A control group of 10 adult farmers also will participate.
The pilot study, funded by the National Institute for Occupational and Safety Health, aims to determine whether the simulator can pinpoint small differences in the children's performance.
Reprinted in part from Northern Ag Network