Florida study seeks real cause of accidents

Cell phones, cigarettes, the radio and fast food are all occasionally blamed for causing serious accidents. The National Academy of Sciences is conducting a nationwide study to help determine what behaviors often lead up to serious car accidents. The University of South Florida is seeking volunteers in the Tampa area to have cameras placed inside their vehicles. Transportation researchers are hoping to document accidents and near-accidents by witnessing drivers day in and day out.

Changes in the law and safety innovations such as seatbelts, crumple zones and air bags led to a dramatic reduction in fatal accidents. Changing the behavior of drivers may be the next frontier in reducing accidents and making the roads safer for everyone. Driver distractions, known as “secondary tasks” in the industry, include everything from chatting with passengers to drinking a cup of coffee in the morning. While most people understand that these distractions are not ideal, it is not clear how big a role they play in car accidents.

Researchers say their primary interest lies in the few moments that precede an accident. Where are the driver’s hands? What are the driver’s eyes focused on when the trouble begins? The answers to those questions could help engineers, lawmakers and city planners make important changes to protect all of us from harm.

At this stage, six U.S. locations have been chosen for the study. The federally funded research will last more than two years and involve roughly 3,100 drivers. In addition to the fatal crash data gathered by the National Transportation Safety Board, it is hoped that this research will provide some insight into how to prevent deadly car crashes from occurring.

Source: The Tampa Tribune, “USF putting cameras in cars to see how we drive,” Lindsay Peterson, 26 July 2011.