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Release: Oct. 28, 2002

NADS awarded $1.5 million for driver distraction, wireless phone research

The National Advanced Driving Simulator (NADS) at the University of Iowa has received a total of more than $1.5 million from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to conduct two projects on driver distraction and the use of wireless phones.

The first project is a $738,450 study of how different wireless phone interfaces -- such as hands-on (manual) dialing, hands-free with manual dialing, and hands-free with voice dialing -- affect driving behavior under different levels of driving demand. Conventional wisdom holds that hands-free interfaces create less distraction. However, UI researchers say that there is little or no scientific research to document it. The UI study will directly compare interface types and provide invaluable information on their effects, especially under different driving demands, including dense traffic and busy arterial roads.

The second project is an $813,986 study of how distraction caused by wireless phone usage varies based on the actual content, length, and intensity of the phone call. In addition, the study will investigate how cell phone usage experience affects distraction and driver performance. The two projects will be conducted in close cooperation with NHTSA’s Vehicle Research and Test Center, located in East Liberty, Ohio. NHTSA’s principal investigators on the project are Liz Mazzae of NHTSA and Tom Ranney of the Transportation Research Center.

"These are very complex studies utilizing a lot of the unique NADS capabilities, especially in developing the necessary immersive driving situation necessary to differentiate driver performance between the various wireless interface types,” says Yiannis Papelis, UI’s principal investigator for the two studies. "Part of the challenge in these studies is the meaningful quantification of driver performance."

To help chart driver performance, the projects include funding for a state-of-the-art eye tracker that will unobtrusively provide detailed information on where drivers look while driving. Papelis says that the information will be key in evaluating distraction caused by wireless phone usage and the safety implications under varying conditions.

Ginger Watson, UI’s co-principal investigator, says, “We hope that in-depth simulator studies like this one will help safety professionals and the public at-large to understand how driving performance changes with the use of different wireless interfaces and with different types of conversation in the driving environment.”

Frequent users of wireless phones who would like to participate in the studies are asked to call (319) 335-4719. Data collection for the first study is scheduled to begin in October, with the second study to follow. Participants may be required to use wireless phones in simulated heavy traffic or other situations that would create unacceptable risk if performed on real roadways.

The NADS is the largest and most sophisticated research-oriented driving simulator in the world. It was built to conduct research that will ultimately lead to reductions in the number of traffic-related deaths, injuries, and incidents of property loss on the nation’s highways. The NADS, located at the University of Iowa’s Oakdale Research Park, is a national shared-use facility owned by the NHTSA of the Department of Transportation and operated by the University of Iowa.