TTI’s Center for Transportation Safety (CTS) is positioning itself to become the go-to source in Texas for research related to distracted driving – a growing safety concern for policy makers in the state and around the country.
Enter Joel Cooper, an assistant research scientist hired by CTS last summer. Already, he has testified twice before legislative committees as Texas contemplates five driver-distraction bills.
Cooper arrived in Texas by way of his home state of Utah, armed with a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology. His advisor at the University of Utah was David Strayer, an internationally recognized expert in driver distraction.
One of his first Utah transportation studies concerned snow-plow drivers – an occupation in low demand in Aggieland. But after completing numerous other studies focused on distracted driving, Cooper became an ideal prospect for CTS.
“The Center for Transportation Safety recognized the need to improve our ability to respond to legislative and media inquiries in this important area and specifically sought to add staff with expertise in distraction research,” says Sue Chrysler, manager of the CTS Human Factors Group. She expects Cooper to grow TTI’s research on the issue. “Joel will be able to make good use of our driving simulator, instrumented vehicle and eye tracker.”
Cooper is co-leading efforts at TTI to assess the distraction potential of the federally proposed program called Connected Vehicles. Also, he will lead the research on one of the first test track studies conducted on texting while driving – this one for the Southwest Region University Transportation Center.
“Driver distraction is a hot issue right now, and it will only get hotter because the complexity of what drivers have to deal with is skyrocketing,” Cooper says. “Drivers are surrounded by touch-screen displays…and it really changes the interaction with the vehicle.”