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World-leading researchers coming to NZ

World-leading researchers coming to NZ

Eminent US road safety researcher Professor Tom Dingus will be one of the key-note speakers at the inaugural AA Research Foundation symposium in Wellington next week.

The two-day conference on driver inattention, distraction and fatigue will bring together many of New Zealand's leading researchers into road safety as well as international luminaries Prof Dingus from Virginia Tech Transportation Institute and Doctor Judith Charlton from Monash University Accident Research Centre in Australia.

Prof Dingus' research has challenged traditional thinking about the causes of crashes, in particular a ground-breaking 100-Car Naturalistic Study in 2006 that analysed the everyday driving of 241 people for more than a year. Unobtrusive video cameras and other data-collecting devices were installed in the cars of participants ranging from 18 to 73-years-old to record all their real-life driving activity.

The study recorded 42,300 hours of driving, covering approximately 3,200,000km, in which time the participants were involved in 82 crashes, 761 near-crashes and 8,295 incidents (a situation where the driver made an evasive manoeuvre but not in as extreme a manner as a near-crash). By having video and data on what the driver and vehicle were doing at the time of these events, the study's findings included:

* Nearly 80 per cent of crashes and 65 per cent of near-crashes involved driver inattention within the three seconds prior to the event. This may have involved the driver being distracted, fatigued or just looking away.

* Driver drowsiness was found to be a contributing factor in 20 per cent of crashes and 16 per cent of near-crashes, which was higher than most current crash databases estimate fatigue as a factor. Further analysis found drowsiness made drivers at least 6-8 times more likely to have a crash or near-crash.

* Cellphone use was involved in many distraction related crashes and near-crashes.

* The rate of inattention-related crashes and near-crashes decreased dramatically with age, with the rate as much as four times higher for the 18-20 year age group compared to older groups.

* Judgement error, driving while impaired and instances of aggressive driving was much more prevalent in the youngest age group: 18 to 20 year olds. Since the 100-Car Naturalistic Study there have been four further studies specifically looking at teenagers, older drivers and heavy trucks, which will all be discussed by Prof Dingus at the symposium. The symposium will take place on September 5-6 at Wellington Convention Centre and is the inaugural event for the AA Research Foundation, which has recently been established by the AA to contribute to research into road safety.

The Ministry of Transport is also funding the event, which will be a first for New Zealand and allow our researchers a rare chance to come together in person and share the latest findings and ideas in their field. The conference is focusing on inattention, distraction and fatigue because studies indicate they play a much greater role in crashes than currently thought but their risks are not well understood publically. Distraction and fatigue have also been targeted as areas of focus in New Zealand's Safer Journeys Strategy for 2010-2020. Alongside the international key-note speakers, there will be numerous presentations from New Zealand researchers on a diverse range of topics including microsleeps, the attitudes and behaviours or learner drivers and how young drivers can be better taught to recognise and respond to hazards.


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