Vehicle Studies Drowsy, Drunk and Distracted Driving
Research Vehicle Outfitted to Study Habits and Behaviors Behind the Wheel
Sept. 3, 2008
Expect to be noticed if you’re wheeling around in the “UTDrive” vehicle. The white SUV is hard to miss.
It’s emblazoned with the UT Dallas logo and green flames, and fully outfitted with cameras, microphones and other data sensors from bumper to bumper.
UTDrive is a transportation research tool helping Electrical Engineering Department head John Hansen understand some of the challenges confronting modern commuters.
“Think about the car you learned to drive in,” Hansen said. “Wasn’t it a lot simpler than the cars we drive today? Modern drivers face a myriad of distractions, from on-board navigation systems to cell phones to MP3/iPod music devices.”
“Anything that requires a driver’s eyes to leave the road for more than 1.5 seconds is considered a distraction,” he said. “We’re using this vehicle to study the impacts of various distractions and driving conditions.”
Another research avenue for UTDrive is studying how fatigue impacts drivers.
“We know that alcohol and distractions play a significant role in the more than 6 million crashes that happen annually,” Hansen said. “But drowsy driving makes up a large percentage of the cause for crashes, too. It’s hard for officers to cite people for drowsy driving, so it may even be more likely to happen than drunk driving. And the impacts of drowsy driving crashes are significant.”
Hansen’s research team originally focused on in-vehicle systems for route navigation for a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency project in 2004. The application arose from a need to have rapid route information, motivated by challenges that military Humvee drivers faced in the urban warfare of Mogadishu, Somalia, in the early 1990s.
In 2006, the research team purchased the UTDrive vehicle. The team has involved four different senior research teams in the design, construction and data collection efforts. The UT Drive vehicle has since been repurposed for a New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization study, with primary funding from the Japanese organization.
Hansen noted that a driver’s skill level changes from day to day, given a variety of variables from mood and attitude to who we might be talking to on our cell phones.
Futuristic vehicles may be able to respond more quickly — braking more firmly over a shorter distance, for example — to assist drivers who may be older and slower to react or who otherwise may just be distracted.
Hansen stressed that drivers should remain the ultimate decision-makers behind the wheel, but that vehicles can be improved to help assist them.
The research team, led by post-doc Pinar Boyraz, recently compiled data from more than 100 drivers and has shared these results with project collaborators in Japan, Turkey, Italy and Singapore to further explore how driving behavior differs across countries.
Coming up, he expects studies asking drivers to navigate the vehicle aggressively or cautiously in a controlled environment to obtain vehicle signal dynamics for models of safe and aggressive driving.
John Hansen, head of the Electrical Engineering Department, is using the “UTDrive” vehicle (below) to understand the challenges faced by modern commuters.
The Driving Facts…
The UTDrive vehicle represents about $100,000 worth of purchase and test instrument costs. Some related facts about the research:
• More than 45,000 people die on roadways in America every year; half of all accidents occur at roadway intersections.
• The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 20 to 30 percent of all crashes (about 1.2 million) are caused by distracted drivers.
• The average American spends more than 300 hours in their car each year.
• More than half of all drivers use cell phones while driving.