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Release: Dec. 31, 2002

NADS awarded $2.9 million for alcohol and driver performance research

The National Advanced Driving Simulator at the University of Iowa has received $2.9 million from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to research the influence of alcohol on driver performance and behavior.

The $2.9 million award is the first part of a proposed $5.1 million overall NADS project and will include a series of studies to be conducted over the next three years.

NHTSA estimates that in 2000, alcohol was involved in 40 percent of fatal crashes as well as in eight percent of all crashes and that about three of every 10 Americans will be involved in an alcohol-related crash at some time during their lives.

“These studies are so important because we are able to provide very realistic driving conditions to determine the degree of impairment associated with a particular blood alcohol concentration (BAC), a situation that cannot be safely duplicated on the open road," says Ginger Watson, NADS principal investigator and chief applications scientist. "Unfortunately, much of the information available about the impact of alcohol on safety is from collision statistics where someone has been injured or killed, and these data often don’t tell us what led to the crash. This work may help us understand the effects of alcohol in situations known to be over-represented for alcohol-related crashes so that we might one day see substantially fewer such crashes.”

Early studies will concentrate on impairment associated with various levels of BAC, ranging from 0.02 percent to as high as 0.10 percent and will include drivers of various ages and with different drinking practices. In later studies, drivers will experience variations in environmental conditions and roadway situations such as denser traffic and roadway types and will be given realistic in-vehicle tasks such as talking on a cell phone, eating, drinking, or changing a CD while driving at various BAC levels.

A final study will examine how time of day influences the degree to which the BAC level degrades driving performance. Studies will be conducted throughout the day, including nighttime, to realistically assess these effects. NHTSA estimates the rate of alcohol involvement in fatal crashes is more than three times as high at night as during the day. For all crashes, the alcohol involvement rate is more than four times as high at night.

In addition to researchers at the NADS/ University of Iowa, experts from Southern California Research Institute, Pacific Institute for Research & Evaluation, Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, and Battelle will collaborate on the project.

Data collection is expected to begin in the spring of 2003 and continue periodically into the summer of 2005. Persons who live near the NADS and who would like to participate in a NADS study are asked to call the NADS hot line at (319) 335-4719 or register on line at

The NADS is the largest and most sophisticated research-oriented driving simulator in the world. It was built to conduct research that will ultimately lead to reductions in the number of traffic-related deaths, injuries, and incidents of property loss on the nation’s highways. The NADS, located at the University of Iowa’s Oakdale Research Park, is a national shared-use facility owned by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration of the Department of Transportation and operated by the University of Iowa.