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University of Iowa News Release


Oct. 9, 2009

Study to examine vehicle safety warnings aimed at detecting distracted drivers

University of Iowa researchers will use a $1,049,861 grant from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to help determine the effect of various vehicle safety warning interfaces on driver safety.

The warning interfaces could be as simple as an auditory tone or as complex as vehicle control inputs designed to prevent a crash.

In particular, the researchers will use the National Advanced Driving Simulator (NADS) -- a research and teaching unit of the UI College of Engineering -- to explore how new approaches to warning distracted drivers work.

Timothy L. Brown, NADS senior human factors researcher and director of the 14-month study, said that driver distraction continues to be a significant traffic safety concern, and warnings from vehicle safety systems have the potential to partially mitigate the problem.

"Driver distraction is an increasing safety problem on our nation's roadways. Developing an understanding of how interfaces for vehicle safety systems can improve or reduce the negative effects of driver distraction is a critical step in reducing distraction-related crashes," said Brown, who will conduct the study in collaboration with Daniel McGehee of the UI Public Policy Center and John D. Lee of the University of Wisconsin.

The study will examine how in-vehicle, lane departure warning systems work when drivers are distracted in different ways. Specifically, the study will examine how different types of warnings that vary in level of direct intervention affect a driver's ability to successfully respond while the driver is distracted.

For example, when the vehicle is drifting out of the lane, the system could selectively apply the brakes on one side of the vehicle or turn the steering wheel to stop the vehicle from drifting out of the lane. At one level, this could be a gentle application that slows or stops the drift. However, a more severe intervention might involve turning the wheel more sharply or applying greater braking pressure to quickly correct the drift.

Brown said that the new study is the latest in a series of NHTSA-sponsored UI projects to investigate the role of distraction on driver safety. A 2008 study, for example, looked at how the vehicle of the future may be able to detect whether iPods, cell phones and other devices are present in the car and whether the driver is looking away from the roadway.

"This research takes a different approach in dealing with distraction than many current studies," Brown said. "Rather than directly trying to detect or prevent distraction, we are looking at how crash avoidance systems might mitigate the crash outcomes associated with distracted drivers. This approach may not solve all of the problems associated with distracted driving, but it does have the potential to reduce the number of injuries and fatalities caused by distracted drivers."

Located at the University of Iowa Research Park, NADS is the most sophisticated research-driving simulator in the world. Developed for NHTSA, it offers the highest fidelity real-time driving simulation experience. The NADS mission is to conduct and support simulator-based research and motor vehicle systems research with the goal of enhancing the safety of U.S. highways and improving the safety and productivity of the vehicle-manufacturing sector. The NADS vision is to achieve these goals in collaboration with academia, government, and industry through the advancement of multidisciplinary simulation science and technology.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One,
Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACT: Timothy Brown, NADS, 319-335-4785,; Gary Galluzzo, 319-384-0009,