Nationwide data will be used to identify dangerous distractions
In an effort to improve traffic safety, a University of Maryland School of Medicine researcher is urging drivers around the country to report the circumstances of their accidents and near-misses to a special Web site -- www.Accident-Report.org. Following an accident or near-miss, participating drivers will complete a confidential online questionnaire designed to identify the distractions that carry the greatest risk of causing a traffic accident.
From cell phone use to eating behind the wheel, the study will focus on a wide range of behaviors and potential distractions that can affect driving performance. For example, drivers will be asked how they were feeling physically and emotionally at the time of the accident or near-miss. Were they alert or sleepy? Were they sick that day? Were they distracted by an argument or engaged in a conversation? Drivers must complete the multiple-choice questionnaire within one month of the accident or near-miss.
"We want to know as much as possible about what was happening in the critical few seconds just before a crash or near-miss," says Jeffrey Hadley Ph.D., the R Adams Cowley fellow at the Charles McC. Mathias, Jr., National Study Center for Trauma and Emergency Medical Systems. "By contrasting the information associated with these two types of incidents, the study will provide a new understanding of the human factors that are most important to avoiding an imminent collision," adds Dr. Hadley.
The study is the first to seek the specific circumstances surrounding a large number of near-misses. It is estimated that the typical motorist experiences a hazardous driving situation every two hours on the road, and narrowly averts an accident about once a month.
The thorough online questionnaire will gather specific information that is typically not found in police reports. For example, if the driver was using a cell phone, was the driver picking up the phone, dialing, or talking? One question that will be addressed is whether there is any difference in risk between talking to a passenger and having a hands-free cell phone conversation. Because participation is anonymous, it is believed that study members will be more likely to report information they may not have been willing to admit to police.
The results of the study will be made available to the public, traffic safety experts, legislators and other policy makers. Dr. Hadley hopes the data will be used to help educate the public, and ultimately save lives. "We are looking for drivers who are motivated by a sense of civic responsibility," says Dr. Hadley. "Each person's contribution will help improve traffic safety in the long run."
Drivers may enroll in the study and bookmark the Website, even if they have not had an accident or near-miss. Participants will then be ready to report any future accidents or near-misses. Dr. Hadley says the study will run for an indefinite period of time and will be adapted to address other traffic safety issues as they arise.
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