Beginner drivers needed to complete driver distraction study

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CALGARY, March 29, 2006 – If you are between 16 and 21 years of age and have obtained your probationary driver’s license within the last year, you could qualify to participate in an important cellphone and driving study now underway at the University of Calgary.

The goal of the Driver Distraction Study, which is sponsored by Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC), is to determine the effects of cellphone use and other distractions on the driving behaviour of beginner drivers – young people who are currently taking part in Alberta’s graduated licensing program.

“Other studies have looked at cellphones as a driver distraction, but this project is the first to focus on young drivers,” says Jim Rivait, IBC’s Vice-President, Prairies, NWT and Nunavut.

Dr. Alison Smiley, President of Human Factors North, who is leading the study, says that what also makes the research project unique is the fact that it includes both experienced and beginner drivers in a simulator under controlled conditions and in an on-road environment where they are exposed to real-world hazards.

“The on-road component was included because driver error in a simulator has no consequences. Drivers on cellphones may behave differently on the road,” says Dr. Smiley.

The study was originally slated for completion last year, but Rivait admits that may have been overly optimistic. “There have been a few technical problems along the way and participation has not been as robust as we had hoped. But we’re making good progress. It’s important that the integrity of the study not be compromised in order to get it done quickly. We’re not trying to rush this,” says Rivait.

Beginner drivers are needed for the on-road phase of the study, which will entail driving a specially equipped car on the roads of Calgary. The first phase of the study, which was conducted in a simulator at University of Calgary, has been completed and results are being analyzed.

To qualify to participate in the study, interested individuals must:

  • be 16 to 21 years of age

  • have obtained their probationary license within the last year

  • have their own cellphone

  • have the consent of a parent or guardian if under the age of 18

  • not wear glasses (contacts are fine).

Those interested in participating should call the study’s toll-free number: 1-888-999-1565. Callers who pass the initial telephone screening will be asked to come to the university to be tested for the study’s vision requirements and to sign a consent form. Probationary drivers under the age of 18 must have a parent or guardian accompany them to this session.

Participants who meet the vision requirements will be asked to come back for a 90-minute on-road test session during off-peak traffic hours near the university. For added safety, they will be accompanied by a driving instructor with access to a second brake. Participants will drive a “rolling lab” – a car outfitted with cameras and sensors that record various aspects of driver behaviour, the view of the road ahead and the driver’s face and feet. The driver’s detection of naturally occurring on-road hazards is measured.

Participants will be paid for each of the sessions they attend.

The final report on the Driver Distraction Study is expected to be released later this year.