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Driving Lab Renamed for Arbella Insurance Group

On Friday, December 10, the College of Engineering hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the newly named Arbella Insurance Group Charitable Foundation Human Performance Laboratory, a driving research facility. The human performance laboratory’s new name celebrates a recent $150,000 gift from the Arbella Insurance Group Charitable Foundation, the philanthropic branch of the Arbella Insurance Group. The laboratory team, led by Professor Donald Fisher, head of the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department, studies the factors that increase the crash risk of novice and older drivers and also develops simulation programs that train users how to avoid risky driving behaviors.

Arbella previously sponsored research in the area of distracted driving to further Dr. Fisher’s existing study of the topic. Dr. Fisher’s team then created the simulations used in Arbella’s groundbreaking “Distractology 101” mobile driving simulator program.

Visitors to the ribbon-cutting had the chance to use Distractology 101 for themselves in Arbella’s 36-foot mobile classroom, which is traveling to communities throughout New England for the next three years. During the simulator training, teens and other new drivers face a number of scenarios based on real-world examples that illustrate the dangers of distracted driving and teach participants how to anticipate hidden hazards, react to the road, and avoid accidents.

Distracted driving is a serious and growing problem in the U.S., resulting in an estimated 1.6 million crashes and 6,000 deaths each year. People who text while driving are 23 percent more likely to be in a crash or barely avoid one. Studies have even shown that driving while distracted is equivalent to driving with a blood alcohol level of .08.

Two years ago, I learned about Dr. Don Fisher and his research on distracted driving,” said John Donohue, president, CEO, and chairman of the Arbella Insurance Group. “It became clear to me that distracted driving is becoming an epidemic in our country. We’re proud to make this gift and to continue our strong partnership with UMass Amherst, in the hopes of changing behaviors behind the wheel. If we save even one life, we’ll have made a difference.”

“The lab’s objectives can generally be summarized as research to reduce driving crashes, injuries, and fatalities,” said Dr. Fisher. “So our goals are consistent with those of Arbella to promote safer driving practices. This very important gift from Arbella will help us expand those efforts in the future.”

The Arbella Insurance Human Performance Laboratory features equipment valued at well over $1 million, available to faculty, graduate students, and undergrads to use in a wide range of driving research. The lab includes two state-of-the-art driving simulators, driving simulator software, and advanced eye trackers. 

We greatly appreciate this significant gift from Arbella, which is a hallmark of its long-term partnership with the Human Performance Laboratory in recognition of the excellent work being done there,” said Dean Ted Djaferis, UMass Amherst College of Engineering.

Established in 1988, the Arbella Insurance Group (www.arbella.com) is a company with over $600 million in revenue and approximately $1 billion in assets, headquartered in Quincy, Mass. Arbella is a customer-focused regional property and casualty insurance company, providing personal and business insurance in Massachusetts and Connecticut, and business insurance in Rhode Island and New Hampshire.

Arbella Insurance Group founded the Arbella Insurance Group Charitable Foundation in 2004. The mission of the foundation is to engage in activities and to support not-for-profit organizations that have a significant positive impact on the people and communities served by Arbella. (December 2010)