Visit puts focus on distracted driving research
Roadway Safety Institute distracted driving research was in the spotlight during a campus visit May 5 by U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, who toured RSI facilities along with Minnesota high school students, safety leaders, researchers, and advocates.
The Institute, along with the Center for Transportation Studies (CTS) at the University of Minnesota, hosted the event.
“As a mother of a 20-year-old driver, safety is always on my mind. But you don’t need to be a parent to appreciate the importance of keeping kids’—and really all drivers’—eyes on the road,” Klobuchar said. “We all know that 5 seconds—5 seconds—is the average time your eyes are off the road when you send a text, which means for a driver traveling 55 miles per hour, you actually are going the length of a football field blindfolded.”
Klobuchar went on to cite the sobering statistics of deaths and injuries due to driver distraction, but then got much more personal. “Despite all those numbers that are so startling and so big, no one is with me here because of the statistics. They’re here because of lost lives, because of their own family members, and because of those that they want to prevent from being injured or killed.”
Klobuchar was joined by Nichole Morris, principal researcher with the U’s HumanFIRST Laboratory; Max Donath, RSI director; Laurie McGinnis, CTS director; Donna Berger, director of the Office of Traffic Safety, Minnesota Department of Public Safety; Vijay Dixit, a leading distraction-free driving advocate and chair of the Shreya R. Dixit Memorial Foundation; Greg LaVallee, a driving safety advocate from Otsego, Minnesota (both Dixit and LaVallee lost teenage children in distracted driving crashes); and student representatives of distraction-free driving clubs at Edina and Eden Prairie high schools in Minnesota.
Following remarks, the group toured the University’s HumanFIRST Lab, which uses the tools and methods of psychology and human factors engineering to better understand driver performance. High school students from two of the distraction-free driving clubs launched by the Dixit Foundation took turns behind the wheel of the lab’s state-of-the art immersive driving simulator, which is used for researching driver distraction and impairment.
Morris discussed some of the ways research at the HumanFIRST Lab is addressing distracted driving. A smartphone-based app, for example, has been shown to be an effective solution for restricting teens, or drivers of any age, from interacting with their phone while driving, she said.
During the month of April, which was National Distracted Driving Awareness Month, Minnesota law enforcement issued nearly 1,000 citations for distracted driving. In 2015, texting and other forms of distracted driving contributed to 74 deaths on Minnesota roads.
Several of Klobuchar’s key provisions to crack down on distracted driving were included in the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, the first long-term transportation bill passed by Congress in a decade.
- Video coverage of the distracted driving event
- RSI driver-distraction-related research
- Laws and Attitudes About Texting While Driving Need to Change (New York Times, May 2, 2016, by U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar)
- HumanFIRST Laboratory