Nichole Morris is a research associate in the RSI-affiliated HumanFIRST Laboratory in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Minnesota. She has worked at the HumanFIRST lab for nearly four years, where she conducts research focusing on high-risk drivers, human factors related to roadway safety, and human-computer interactions with transportation-related technologies.

“Human-factors research is an approach to transportation design, safety, and training that accounts for human cognition and limitations in order to improve transportation systems to make them safer and easier to use,” Morris says.

Morris is currently working on an RSI-sponsored project to expand and adapt HumanFIRST's Teen Driver Support System smartphone application into a system to assist older drivers. The aim of the project is to help drivers maintain their independence in later life and help reduce the disproportionately high crash rates for older drivers. Individuals with mild cognitive impairment are of particular interest for the effort because they have begun to experience cognitive declines that are likely to interfere with safe travel, Morris says. Work is also under way on other RSI-sponsored research, including a series of simulation studies looking at potential applications of new connected vehicle technologies. These emerging technologies will eventually facilitate information exchange between drivers, vehicles, and infrastructure to improve roadway safety and efficiency.

Additionally, Morris is the principal researcher on the design and creation of a new electronic crash report interface to replace Minnesota’s outdated system of crash reporting by law enforcement. The two-year project involves human-computer interaction research, interim testing, and crash report analysis to design an easy-to-use reporting system that will provide more accurate crash data.

“In the future, we expect that crash data in Minnesota are going to be more extensive and thorough,” Morris says. “We’re going to know a lot more about what’s going on with crashes in the state. These data will help us learn what we need to prevent fatal and serious injury crashes.” The crash report usability and design project recently received the Best Practices in Traffic Records Project Award from the Association of Transportation Safety Information Professionals.

Morris says she enjoys the variety of research work done at the HumanFIRST lab, which allows her to work closely with engineers to address Minnesota’s transportation safety issues in a comprehensive, interdisciplinary way.

“We don’t really get beholden to one specific track of research. We do a lot of contract work for the state where we address the state’s needs as they arise. This allows us to be responsive and dynamic,” Morris says.

Morris holds a B.A., M.A., and Ph. D. in psychology (human factors) from Wichita State University. She currently represents the University of Minnesota on the USDOT’s Traffic Records Coordinating Committee.

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