Iowa State University
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News Service

News Service:

Annette Hacker, director,
(515) 294-3720

Office: (515) 294-4777

9-9-05

Contacts:

Derrick Parkhurst, Human Computer Interaction, (515) 294-4549

Nathan Willis, Aerospace Engineering major, (515) 572-0946

Jaime Reyes, Iowa Department of Transportation, (515) 239-1077

Mike Krapfl, News Service, (515) 294-4917

Iowa State researchers focus an electronic eye on driver behavior

AMES, Iowa -- Driver after driver rolled past a campus stop sign.

You don't have to look very hard to see drivers keep on rolling. And now an Iowa State University assistant professor and a sophomore engineering student are working on a computer program that will automatically analyze video taken at intersections to measure the problem and help understand why some drivers ignore the law.

The analysis will answer lots of questions:

How fast do drivers move through an intersection?

Are there any near misses?

Do drivers change behavior when pedestrians are around?

Are drivers distracted or just in a rush?

"There is significant potential for this technology to enhance safety research," said Derrick Parkhurst, an Iowa State assistant professor of psychology and human computer interaction. "It provides us a much more comprehensive picture of intersection safety than crash data alone."

Current studies of intersection safety rely on crash data. But crash data provide no automatic way to quantify -- or even know about -- near misses or driver behavior at an intersection.

And so Parkhurst and Nathan Willis, a sophomore from Omaha, Neb., who's studying aerospace engineering, are developing software to analyze driver behavior. The research started as a freshman honors project for Willis. The Iowa Department of Transportation is now supporting the project with a $10,000 grant.

Jaime Reyes, a safety review engineer for the transportation department, said understanding driver behavior and how to change it may be a key to making roads and intersections safer.

Take Iowa Highway 141 northwest of Des Moines as an example, he said. The state expanded the highway to four lanes. Those four lanes crossed a Grimes street. And ever since the new lanes opened there have been accidents at that intersection. So the transportation department put up signs. There were still accidents. So the transportation department put up flashing lights. There were still accidents. So the transportation department put up traffic signals. And there were a few more accidents. But drivers are now safely navigating the intersection.

"Truly, I don't think we can solve these problems with signs and flashing beacons," Reyes said. "I think the approach needs to be behavioral. We want to do something to make drivers aware that they're at an intersection, that they need to pay attention."

Parkhurst thinks the new software that's being developed could help: "Technology is pushing the envelope of what we understand about human behavior and this will help improve safety and save lives."

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Quick look

A better understanding of driver behavior can lead to safer intersections.

Quote

"Technology is pushing the envelope of what we understand about human behavior and this will help improve safety and save lives."

Derrick Parkhurst, assistant professor of psychology and human computer interaction