Human Factors and Vehicle Safety Program Receives $17.2 Million Grant


The PPC's Human Factors and Vehicle Safety program has received three grants totaling $17.2 million to fund automotive safety research and the development and implementation of a national education campaign to help drivers understand the safety systems in their vehicles.

The funds for the grants are provided as part of the Safety Research and Education Program established by the recent Toyota Economic Loss class action settlement in California. 

Daniel V. McGehee, director of the program, says of the grant, “We are pleased to have been given the opportunity to win this grant. The work we will do can significantly advance driver safety.”

“When large sums are invested into basic research, innovation follows. This is a win-win for both drivers and for science,” says McGehee, who also serves as adjunct associate professor of mechanical and industrial engineering, occupational and environmental health, and emergency medicine.

The projects from the grant will include:

--A national survey on public perceptions of vehicle safety technologies.
--A national education campaign on vehicle safety technology in which the UI has partnered with the National Safety Council and Iowa City-based Digital Artefacts, LLC.
--A study at the National Advanced Driving Simulator (NADS) that examines replicating emergency events in a controlled and safe environment.
--A study in the Department of Neurology to measure and improve younger and older driver behavior when accelerating and decelerating.
--An engineering analysis being conducted by NADS and the Department of Geography to determine if multiple car sensor systems can be used together to prevent certain types of crashes.

The survey, to be conducted by the UI Social Science Research Center, will be one of the first comprehensive national surveys of consumer driving safety. It will assess knowledge and familiarity with vehicle safety systems and will examine drivers’ understanding and use of defensive driving techniques. The results of this survey will be developed into a national education campaign, designed to reach 90 percent of U.S. adults multiple times.

The UI has partnered with the National Safety Council to conduct the national multi-media and education campaign. It will be supported by scientific research and will enhance and promote safer driving among motorists. 

The first study will examine driver reactions to emergency events re-created in a high-fidelity driving simulator. Different traffic situations, weather conditions, and vehicle characteristics will be evaluated using a wide variety of drivers. The objective of this study is to understand how drivers react in sudden emergencies, the order of their actions, and the speed of their reactions across these scenarios. An understanding of drivers’ natural reactions will allow future education campaigns and vehicle designs to adopt a human-centered approach.

The second study will develop a training program aimed at improving drivers’ interactions with the pedals, and evaluate the program’s effectiveness in both younger and older drivers. This study will use a specially equipped vehicle to look at how drivers interact with the pedals in a variety of parking and driving situations. Using this as a baseline data, the study will then enroll half of the participants in cognitive and physical coordination training designed to improve their attention, reaction time, and awareness of their foot position. After the training period, drivers will take the tests again to measure the effectiveness of the training. If effective, this training program could be used in the associated education program and be made available to medical and fitness professionals.

The third study will move the focus away from driver behavior and toward vehicle design. It will look at existing and future electronic control and advanced vehicle safety systems and develop ways to integrate these systems to provide monitoring and prevention of unintended acceleration events. The objective is to provide concepts and direction to automakers, standards organizations, and government regulators.

“We look forward to working with the University of Iowa to educate drivers to better understand their vehicles and how to most effectively use vehicle safety systems,” said John Ulczycki, Vice President, National Safety Council.  Founded in 1913 and chartered by Congress, the National Safety Council,, is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to save lives by preventing injuries and deaths at work, in homes and communities, and on the road through leadership, research, education and advocacy. NSC advances this mission by partnering with businesses, government agencies, elected officials and the public in areas where we can make the most impact – distracted driving, teen driving, workplace safety, prescription drug overdoses and Safe Communities.

Digital Artefacts, an Iowa City-based research and development firm specializing in multi-media, games, mobile applications, and software will develop interactive computing as part of the education campaign.  Digital Artefacts’ multidisciplinary team of scientists, artists, and engineers has worked with the University of Iowa since 1999, creating state of the art interactive experiences for education and research communities. “We are delighted to collaborate with the University of Iowa and the National Safety Council to design and develop engaging and effective educational media and content to advance driver safety.” said Joan Severson, President of Digital Artefacts.

The University of Iowa has been a national leader in driver safety research for over 25 years, and has the advantage of having conducted safety technology design and evaluation using state-of-the-art instrumented vehicles, naturalistic driving technologies, and high fidelity driving simulation at the National Advanced Driving Simulator and other UI facilities.

UI research project leaders include McGehee, overall principal investigator, and key personnel  from five other UI colleges: Sue Chrysler, College of Engineering (NADS); Kevin Leicht, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Department of Sociology and Iowa Social Science Research Center; John Murry from the College of Business Department of Marketing; Dr. Matthew Rizzo, Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine Department of Neurology; and Natoshia Askelson and Corinne Peek-Asa from the UI College of Public Health.  Kathleen Stewart, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Department of Geography.