- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 17, 2001

BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP) Wanted: More than 100 drivers in Northern Virginia.
Qualifications: A willingness to let high-tech instruments record every slamming of the brakes, every quick lane change, every pedal-to-the-metal passing maneuver for the next year. Unusually safety-conscious drivers need not apply.
Contact: The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.
Tom Dingus, director of the institute, said data collected from the volunteer drivers and analyzed by experts eventually could reduce the number of traffic accidents.
The $3 million project is "the largest instrumented vehicle study ever attempted," he said.
"This project will provide a unique opportunity to study drivers' performance in their own vehicles in real traffic conditions," said Vicki Neale, head of the institute's Safety and Human Factors Group, which will lead the investigation. "This study will help to bridge gaps in information that we gain from exploring driver performance in a controlled environment and analyzing crashes after they occur."
The research is funded by the Virginia Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Cindy Wilkinson, operations director of the institute, said researchers expect the 100 or so drivers to collect data on about 60 crashes.
Researchers also expect the study to yield data on about 600 "near events," in which the drivers have to take evasive action, and about 3,300 "critical events," in which drivers have to suddenly stop or yank the steering wheel, Miss Wilkinson said.
Vehicle crashes kill nearly 40,000 people and injure more than 2 million people each year while costing more than $150 billion, according to NHTSA.
Researchers believe getting detailed, realistic, on-road information on the events leading up to crashes, as well as the behavior of drivers, will help them better understand why crashes occur, Miss Wilkinson said.
Armed with that information, they can make transportation decisions to make traveling safer.
To find volunteers for research projects, Virginia Tech typically places ads in local newspapers, Miss Wilkinson said. However, she said, the institute will take care to not enlist volunteers who are abnormally conscious of safety.
"We want to get a pool of drivers who represent the public," she said.


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