Studying how to make driving safer

A recent study led by Toronto Rehab Senior Scientist Dr. Jennifer Campos suggests that a quieter cabin may compromise driving performance and safety.

Did you know?:

  • In 2010, motor vehicle collisions resulted in over 2,200 fatalities and over 14,400 hospitalizations, and cost the Canadian economy $2.2 billion.
  • Approximately, 74% of Canadian commuters drive a car to and from their workplace and spend an average of 47.4 minutes each day doing so.
To make commuting as comfortable as possible, automakers are building vehicles with quieter cabins that mute noises from the engine, tires, wind and road; however, little is known about the effect of quieter cabins on driving.
In Dr. Campos’s study, 36 participants were asked to drive a car in a simulated DriverLab environment at a constant speed without the help of a speedometer. During the driving test, half of the participants were provided with visual and auditory information, including noise from the engine, road and wind, which increased with driving speed. The other participants were provided with visual information only.

Researchers discovered that drivers were most effective at controlling their speed and keeping it consistent when visual and auditory information were provided. The results also suggest that older adults rely more heavily on auditory information than younger adults for speed control.

These findings show that some car noises can improve driving performance and safety, especially in older adults. “Automakers need to carefully choose which sounds are reduced and which sounds are not, so that the most useful sounds—from a safety standpoint—can still be heard,” says Dr. Campos.

As an Experimental Psychologist, Dr. Campos’ research program looks at the interactions between different sensory systems (e.g. vision, hearing, balance) and how these interactions change during aging, as a function of sensory loss (e.g. hearing loss), or after a stroke. She is particularly interested in the consequences of these multisensory interactions on complex, everyday behaviours such as walking and driving.

Watch Dr. Campos give a tour of the virtual reality environment in StreetLab live on Periscope. Join us on September 1st at 1:00 p.m. on UHN's Twitter page.

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