Ohio State’s Janet Weisenberger: Distracted driving is ‘huge issue facing society’
Throughout the past decade, there’s been a lot of chatter about the problem of distracted driving. Now, Ohio State University is joining several other schools in putting its money — and time — where its mouth is.
In October 2012, Ohio State University unveiled a $1.3 billion, 5,800-square-foot Driving Simulator Laboratory. It will help researchers study the problem of driver distraction and how to prevent it. The lab is the result of a partnership among Ohio State, Honda R&D Americas Inc. and the Ohio Supercomputer Center.
Taking center stage at the laboratory is a state-of-the-art driving simulator that consists of a vehicle frame mounted on a platform with six degrees of motion, a wide range of freedom that will give drivers in the simulator a sense of motion much like that of riding in a real car. In addition to monitoring general driver behavior, it will help researchers determine the amount of motorist distraction caused by so-called infotainment devices like GPS maps, Bluetooth technology and various dashboard functions.
InsuranceQuotes.com caught up with Janet Weisenberger, senior associate vice president for research at Ohio State University and director of the Driving Simulator Laboratory, to ask her about the lab, the simulator and the problem of distracted driving.
First of all, what makes the simulator at Ohio State different from other driving simulators out there?
One difference is in hardware — the fact that we have several different simulator setups, ranging from a (real world) simulator with realistic visual, motion, and vehicle cues, to another simulator that allows us to test the infotainment systems in real vehicles. A second difference is the mix of university, industry and government users of the facility, which affords significant opportunities for collaboration.
In what ways are you hoping that this simulator helps you better understand the problem of distracted driving?
This facility will allow us to evaluate new infotainment system designs that can minimize driver distraction. At the same time, we can gain a deeper understanding of how distraction happens and how it differs for different people, such as teenagers or elderly people. Further, we can examine how other factors, like weather conditions and the distraction of dashboard and external lights impact driving. And finally, we can investigate how much workload the brain can handle and how it can be best managed for the driving task.
This laboratory was no small undertaking. What, in your opinion, makes this an issue worth studying so carefully?
The laboratory will allow us to study many aspects of driver behavior, beyond distraction. It has been said that driving is one of the most complicated tasks that large numbers of people do regularly. We will also be able to look at how changes in vehicle technologies affect driving behavior, as well as driver preferences for different vehicle and infotainment system characteristics. Questions such as how drivers will interact with increasingly autonomous vehicles can be posed. And researchers can study the way basic human functions—both physical and intellectual—respond in the simulator.
What effect will your work have on the average American motorist?
One overarching goal is to do research that will lead to the design of safer and more responsive vehicles, with more easy-to-use interfaces that will promote a more enjoyable and less stressful driver experience.
What excites you most about this simulator?
Possibly the most exciting aspect of the lab is the mix of university, industry and government users, with its great potential to foster collaborative research. We can all do better things working together than working alone. Driver distraction is a huge issue facing society right now and one that really needs concerted research. I’m excited about the ways this lab will allow us to take some of the questions we have about driving behavior and bring them into real-world scenarios.