U of C researches safer driving

By Samuel Liaw

In the Administration building’s basement, U of C researchers are working on making smarter and safer cars for drivers.

The University of Calgary’s Cognitive Ergonomics Research Laboratory in the Department of Psychology is part of a national research initiative to improve drivers and driving skills. The national team, led by U of C’s Dr. Jeff Caird, will be responsible for creating a database of driver profiles and their diverse interactions with intelligent systems and sensors inside these cars.

The 21st century car is becoming increasingly smarter with more gadgets and fancier technologies than ever before. These new innovations will also make the driving environment more complicated. How the driver responds to these various technologies is important in improving safety, regulation and policy development.

“With the proliferation of in-vehicle information displays, we are forced to ask several questions,” said graduate student Chris Edwards from Dr. Caird’s lab. “How much is too much information? How safe are they to use when driving? Which information does the driver attend to? In what ways and how much will they distract the drivers?”

To help answer these questions, AUTO21, a federal government program to increase competitiveness within the Canadian automobile industry, will fund this national research team. Spread out across Canada, researchers from Carleton University, the University of Montreal, and the U of C receive a total of $2.7 million altogether.

“Driving simulators allow us to investigate how drivers react in real-time situations without risk of accident or injury,” says Dr. Caird. “The knowledge database will help determine what systems and sensors can be used effectively.”

The creation of this future database will profile various drivers, such as commuters versus leisure drivers, young drivers versus elderly drivers, and male drivers versus female drivers. These various groups have different responses to the in-vehicle technology.

“The funding provided by AUTO21 will help evolve our thinking about driver-vehicle interaction and produce specific studies, all within the U of C driving simulator,” said Edwards.

U of C students are encouraged to participate in this national research program by signing up to be subjects for these experiments.

“For students who become involved as participants of the various experiments, there’s an opportunity to gain first-hand insight into the effects of using in-vehicle technologies in a safe and controlled environment,” said Edwards. “There is also the opportunity to become informed of what we know about these devices and what we have yet to find out.”

For more information about participating, e-mail Jan Creaser at jicrease@ucalgary.ca

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