Vehicle crashes are a leading cause of injury and death in North America. Driver behaviour is a factor in the majority of these crashes. The goal of our research is to find ways to reduce the number of crashes by studying factors related to crash risk in safe (virtual) environments -- in short, by using a driving simulator. The University of Guelph DRIVE lab makes use of a high fidelity simulator: A car body surrounded by wrap-around viewing screens that immerse participants in a virtual reality driving environment.
Age and experience as it affects driving performance
One of the best predictors of crash risk is the age of the driver. There are two groups that are disproportionately at risk: the youngest drivers, whose lack of experience may cause them to do risky things, and the oldest drivers, who face special challenges despite their extensive experience and increased concern with safety.
Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
Drivers with ADHD are at 2-4 times higher risk of collisions than the general population. They are 3 times more likely to cause injury in those collisions, and 4 times more likely to be found to be the at fault driver. Research has also found that they are up to 6 times more likely to receive speeding tickets and up to 8 times more likely to have their license suspended. We have several research projects underway investigating ways to reduce the risks associated with drivers who have ADHD.
Factors that affect attention: emotions, distraction
It's easy to become distracted while driving on the road. Once the driver has experience driving, the process becomes more automatic, allowing attention to wander. Emotions can become charged by stimuli both outside and inside of the vehicle: Car crashes, billboards, and conversations with passengers to name a few. There are also factors that can be distracting without necessarily having emotional components involved: Tuning a radio, talking on a cell phone (hands-free included), and using a GPS unit. With so many potential distractions, it is more important than ever for researchers to look at ways to reduce the danger to not only the drivers, but also others around them.
The impact of new technologies
This is a period of rapid change with more and more technologies being introduced into vehicles that may have an impact on driver performance. Cellular telephones, in-vehicle faxes, personal computers, and DVD players as well as new systems designed to provide drivers with travel information, warn of collisions, or help with night driving need to be tested. This is especially true with drivers at risk and in risky situations to ensure that these systems benefit drivers and do not endanger them. This information can be used to help inform product design.
Whenever a new road is built or a new signage plan is developed, it requires careful thought. Poorly designed driving environments can cause confusion among drivers, and this confusion may contribute to collisions or traffic delays. When new driving environments are developed, it can be useful to test out the design before the road is built. By building a virtual reality model of the new driving environment in the driving simulator, and then testing it out on a sample of drivers, it is possible to try out the road design before large amounts of money are devoted to construction. The image to the right is one such project, where the idea of a roundabout on the end of Highway 406 near Welland is being tested virtually before it is built.
Adaptation to sensory conflict in virtual realities
When people are in a driving simulator, they are immersed in a virtual reality that is so realistic that they actually feel they are moving down the road. However, driving simulators are just one type of immersive virtual reality. There are also flight simulators, train simulators, naval simulators, and crane simulators to name a few. Simulators of various types have been used increasingly in training. There are immense advantages to using simulation in training because if the novice makes a mistake, the results are not catastrophic: There will be no injuries or property damage. It also allows people to train for situations that may be uncommon in every day operations, but require quick and accurate responses to avoid major problems. However, there are important differences in the body's response to an activity in real-life as compared to that same activity in a simulator. For example, in a simulator, the eyes receive messages that conflict with those from the vestibular system. We are looking at how the body responds and adapts to this mismatch of sensory information, and how this affects how the user feels and behaves in virtual realities. We are also investigating interventions designed to reduce sensory mismatch.
Canadian Foundation for Innovation
Ontario Innovation Trust
Auto21 National Centre of Excellence
Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation
Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC)
Canadian Foundation for Innovation
Jeff Caird's Lab
Inrets Driving Simulator Links
Department of Psychology
Department of Computing and Information Science