Are You a Distracted Driver? Research May Have a Solution

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distracted driver

A Florida Tech PhD student investigates software that reads content—keeping drivers’ eyes on the road and off the screen.

There may come a day when we can relax inside a fully self-driving vehicle as it automatically whisks us from place to place, but for now, drivers still need to pay attention to the road. Autonomous, self-driving cars are not reality yet, but cars that do most of the driving work, such as a Tesla in autopilot mode, are already here. But as a recent death of a driver using the autopilot feature on his Tesla confirmed, we are not at the point where we can depend solely on automatic features to keep people safe on the road. PhD student Jarrett Clark in the school of Human Centered-Design, Innovation & Art is thinking about ways drivers can keep their eyes on the road in ever-more automated vehicles but still use phones and tablets for communication and entertainment.

“It is unrealistic to expect people to sit idly while cars with levels of automation drive themselves,” Clark says. Clark recently received an Eisenhower Transportation Fellowship from the Federal Highway Administration to research ways to reduce distracted driving caused by devices with screens.

Clark is investigating a software prototype that uses screen reading technology that enables drivers to interact with their devices without touching or looking at them. Grant money from the fellowship will allow Clark to research the software in phases, culminating with a test on a tablet in a driving simulator.  The final test will measure driver performance, the usability of the software, and the number and duration of glances at the tablet screen. Clark believes the software should improve safety while still providing the operator of the vehicle with an enjoyable driving experience. Clark says the results of this research could also apply to other situations where looking at a screen is not be feasible or appropriate.

Clark has been invited to share his research with a presentation at the Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting and Dwight David Eisenhower Research Showcase in January. The prestigious event covers all modes of transportation with numerous workshops and seminars and attended by policy makers, academic researchers, government representatives and industry leaders. The theme for the 2017 TRB Annual Meeting is Transportation Innovation: Leading the Way in an Era of Rapid Change. 

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