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COE Driving Research Wins Liberty Mutual Award

Researchers from UMass Amherst, led by a team from our Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department (MIE), received the 2010 Liberty Mutual Award for their scientific paper, “Can Younger Drivers Be Trained to Scan for Information That Will Reduce Their Risk in Roadway Traffic Scenarios That Are Hard to Identify as Hazardous?” The paper, published in Ergonomics (Vol. 52, No. 6, p.p. 657-673, June 2009), discusses a scientific investigation aimed to reduce the risk of vehicle crashes for younger drivers (18-21 years). The winning researchers from the university include Anuj Pradhan and Donald Fisher of the MIE department; Alexander Pollatsek, Psychology Department; and Michael Knodler, Civil and Environmental Engineering Department.

The Best Paper Award promotes excellence in safety and health research. The annual award, established in 2005 by the Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety and the United Kingdom's Institute for Ergonomics and Human Factors, recognizes the paper published in the journal Ergonomics that best contributes to the advancement of ergonomics. The award was presented at the recent Annual Conference of the Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors (formerly the Ergonomics Society), held at Keele University in Staffordshire, United Kingdom.

The winning study aimed to develop and evaluate a PC-based training program that would help younger drivers better anticipate potential hazards on the open road.

“Younger drivers are over-involved in crashes,” states co-author Dr. Fisher, head of the MIE department and director of the Human Performance Laboratory. “We determined in previous research that a major reason for this over-involvement is their failure to scan areas of the roadway for information about potential risks in hazardous situations. In this study, we wanted to determine if a PC-based, one-hour training program would increase the likelihood that younger drivers anticipated hazards; not only on a driving simulator, but also out on the open road.”

Twenty-four younger drivers (ages 18-21) participated in the study. Prior to any on-road driving, half the drivers participated in a Risk Awareness and Perception Training (RAPT) program, developed at the Human Performance Laboratory (for more information visit www.ecs.umass.edu/hpl ).

The PC-based training program contains nine driving scenarios with a potential risk of a collision with another vehicle or pedestrian. The remaining 12 drivers did not participate in the training. Following the training, researchers measured the eye movements of each participant, driving a vehicle for 16 miles on local residential, feeder, and arterial roads. The researchers had identified areas of the drive that contained potential hazards, which were both similar and dissimilar to those in the RAPT program. For safety purposes, the vehicles used for the investigation were equipped with a secondary braking system. A certified driving instructor sat in the passenger seat of the car and could operate and the secondary braking system, if necessary.

From the data obtained from the experiment, the researchers found that the trained drivers were significantly more likely to gaze at areas of the roadway that contained information relevant to the reduction of risks (64.4%) than were the untrained drivers (37.4%). The findings revealed large and significant training effects, even in situations on the road that were quite different from those shown in training.

“Our findings provide some of the first solid evidence that younger teen drivers can increase hazard anticipation behaviors in an actual driving situation with very little training,” says Fisher. “It remains to be seen whether the increase in safety related behaviors observed immediately after training lasts for an extended period of time, and more importantly, whether it actually leads to a reduction in crashes. We hope to expand upon our research in this area.

“It is a real honor to receive this award and be recognized for our research. We hope that in some small way this award speeds us towards the day when our teen drivers are less involved in crashes and fatalities. We thank the editors of Ergonomics for their time and effort and the Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety for their support.”

The editors of Ergonomics, in conjunction with the Institute’s Honors Committee, select the winner from all of the papers published in the journal over the given year. All papers published in the journal are considered.

“Of the 100 or so papers published in Ergonomics in 2009,” says Roger Haslam, chairman of the Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors Honors Committee and coordinating editor of Ergonomics, “the article by Anuj Pradhan and his colleagues stood out as a very well-written paper, addressing an important issue for society. The editors were impressed with the thoroughness of the study and the clarity of its conclusions. This paper is a well deserved recipient of the 2010 Liberty Mutual Award.”  (June 2010)