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Research program studies driver behavior

November 24, 2012
By DAVE WERNER , The Associated Press

I recently attended an interesting presentation by the National Academy of Sciences on a study of driver behavior at the October state Traffic Safety Symposium in Lake Placid. This is a nationwide study that will provide objective, scientific information about what happens when people crash, when they experience a near-crash and when they drive without incident. The intent of the study is to determine what risks are inherent in the relationship of a driver's performance to the roadway design and to traffic conditions. The study is part of the second Strategic Highway Research Program, which is administered by the Transportation Research Board. SHRP 2 focuses on four related areas, including driving behavior, highway capacity, travel time reliability, and rapid renewal methods.

I recently contacted Charles Fay of the NAS and a Senior Program Officer for the driving study. He provided me with the following information pertinent to this research project.

Driver behavior has been identified as the major factor in about 90 percent of roadway crashes. Researchers believe that if we could understand how drivers interact with and adapt to their vehicles, the traffic environment, the roadway characteristics, traffic control devices, and the environmental conditions that together create the driving experience, then we could identify how to reduce the risk of a crash. Transportation safety and data experts who helped craft the SHRP 2 Safety program agree that significant improvement in road safety can only be achieved by addressing driver behavior; they also know that the driver remains the most difficult part of the system to study.

This driving study, which began in 2010 and will conclude in late 2013, will contain about 3,900 vehicle-years of data with more than 2.5 million trips from about 3,100 passenger vehicle drivers of all ages in six regions in the US, with the Buffalo/Erie County region being the nearest to our area.

An on-board data acquisition system has been designed and manufactured which will continuously record driver behavior and vehicle kinematics. It includes four video cameras, velocity and acceleration sensors, a global positioning system, forward radar, an incident button, a light sensor, and a passive alcohol sensor. Machine vision tools to track lane fidelity and an eyes-forward monitor are included.

To answer questions about what influences the risk of being in a collision, data are needed about drivers, vehicles, and roads. We need to see what drivers see and where they are looking. We need data on speed, distance from the car ahead, acceleration, braking, seat belt use, geographic location, and vehicle characteristics and performance.

Data on road type, geometry, shoulders, safety furniture, signage, and pavement markings are needed. Additionally, environmental variables such as traffic, lighting, and weather conditions will be collected to the extent possible. Six study sites were selected to provide a range of demographics, geography, weather, state laws, road types, and road usage.

Details on the entire SHRP 2 Safety research program are on the SHRP 2 website,

For more articles on traffic law and safety, go to and click on "Traffic Safety Board" under departments then look for Did You Know articles under "services."



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