A specialist in distracted driving issues has joined the CTS staff, supporting a broader effort to build knowledge in a rapidly growing area of national interest and concern. Joel Cooper earned his Ph.D. in cognitive psychology from the University of Utah, where he studied with Dr. David Strayer, one of the world’s foremost experts in the area.
While a student, he led projects investigating the impact of cell phone use on driving, the role of driver distraction in the breakdown of highway traffic flow, the impact of text messaging on driving performance, and other related projects. His experience also includes the study of visual attention, decision making, and multi-tasking capabilities.
Cooper joins the Human Factors Group at CTS led by Program Manager Sue Chrysler, and will serve as an expert on general human performance issues relating to attention, multi-tasking, expertise, distraction, and the role of practice in performance.
The subject of distracted driving has generated more interest and more headlines than any other traffic safety issue in recent years. Not since the intense focus on drunk driving began in the 1980s has a roadway safety issue drawn so much attention. Many safety experts consider that comparison an appropriate one, viewing activities like texting while driving as “the new DWI.”
Teen driver safety
One of the nation’s most successful teen driving safety initiatives is now part of the Center for Transportation Safety. Teens in the Driver Seat® officially joined the CTS on September 1.
TDS Program staff members bring with them extensive knowledge of teen driver risk awareness and driving behavior to help address an urgent public health issue for young people. Worldwide, car crashes kill more teenagers than any other cause.
TDS is distinct from other teen safety initiatives in two ways. Typical safety program tend to focus on only one issue, such as seat belts or alcohol, often overlooking more common risk factors, but TDS focuses on all five of the factors unique to teen drivers – nighttime driving, distractions and speeding – in addition to alcohol and seat belt use. Also, TDS involves teens directly in both the development and delivery of safety messages. Since TDS began, the teen driver fatal crash rate in Texas has declined faster and more steadily than in any other state, dropping for five consecutive years. The program has earned national awards from several organizations, including the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Roadway Safety Foundation, and the Institute of Transportation Engineers.
“By supporting the laws in Texas at a grassroots level, TDS has helped to reduce the number of crashes involving young drivers for several years running,” TDS Director Russell Henk said. “Having the TDS staff join us will only strengthen our collective ability to better understand and combat this persistent roadway safety problem.”
TDS is active in more than 350 schools in Texas, with others active in Connecticut, Georgia, California and North Carolina. Discussions are also in the works to launch the program in Australia. The program is sponsored primarily by TxDOT and State Farm Insurance. In addition, AT&T recently became the newest corporate sponsor for TDS.