THUNDER BAY – In recognition of National Safe Driving Week, which runs December 1 through 7, researchers at Lakehead University’s Centre for Research on Safe Driving (CRSD) urge all drivers to do something, however small, to make our roads safe all year round.
The mandate of the CRSD, based in Thunder Bay, Ontario, is to conduct research on safe driving and educate Canadian drivers to reduce the number of vehicular crashes and subsequent injuries and fatalities by raising awareness of safe driving practices across the country. In 2007 alone, road crashes accounted for nearly 200,000 injuries and 2,767 fatalities among Canadians. These fatalities are equivalent to the number of passengers who could fill 55 of Air Canada Jazz’s regional jets, 40 of Porter Airlines’ Q400 aircraft, or 20 of WestJet’s mid-sized Boeing 737-700 jets. When lost productivity and quality of life resulting from road crashes are taken into account, the cost of road crashes to the Canadian economy is $37 billion per year. When statistics are formatted in these terms, the figures are staggering and our natural reaction is to question why we, as individuals and as drivers, don’t do more to ensure everybody drives both safely and responsibly.
ACCIDENTS AND INJURIES CAN BE AVOIDED
“For the most part, road crashes are not ‘accidents,’ but are preventable events, which is why CRSD researchers focus their efforts on increasing awareness about the need to enhance road safety and safe driving practices,” explains Dr. Michel Bedard, Director of the CRSD. Bedard notes the Centre’s preferred approach to enhancing road safety is to encourage and improve safe driving rather than promoting punitive approaches. He adds that while driving is not a right, it is an important privilege, which CRSD researchers want to help people retain. All drivers have a responsibility to minimize the risk they pose to themselves as well as to other road users, and must recognize that road safety is everyone’s responsibility.
Through its focus on basic and applied research regarding the interactions between the driver, the vehicle, and the road environment, the CRSD and its research are unique in Canada. Realizing a reduction in road crashes depends on the development of sound research and its translation into changes in how we drive. Results of this research are disseminated via professional conferences, media events, and publications in scientific journals, and by targeting specific groups such as drivers and policy makers.
USE OF SIMULATOR
The research conducted by the CRSD relies on field research such as on-road evaluations and simulator technology. The latter plays a particularly important role because of the safety and ethical issues involved with this form of research and using roadways as a test site. CRSD researchers test how drivers react in challenging situations by using a simulator rather than an actual road test where safety can be compromised. The same applies to other research activities such as examining the distracting effects of in-car devices (GPS navigation systems, etc.). With the simulator, researchers can also examine the potential value of warning systems such as speed feedback devices and/or lane-positioning systems.
Bedard notes that although equipment-based research is a tremendous benefit in generating results to help the general public drive more safely, each driver’s perception of his or her driving skills may be the root of some crashes. “While we can certainly all recount examples of unsafe driving, near hits, or even crashes caused by driving errors that should not have occurred, our perception is often that others are the problem,” he says. Bedard recounts a study published more than two decades ago in which 80 percent of drivers considered themselves among the best 30 percent of the driving population. He adds that, “In two recent studies conducted by CRSD researchers, not one driver rated himself or herself below average. This suggests that many of us probably overestimate our own driving abilities. Although nobody is immune to making driving errors, trying to examine what every one of us can do to become better drivers will make us all safer in the long run.”
The CRSD has delivered a number of high-profile research findings and engages many well-published researchers with expertise in wide-ranging areas including biostatistics, engineering, gerontology, health, human factors, kinesiology, pharmacology, physiology, and psychology.
For more information about the CRSD and its driving-related research initiatives, please visit http://crsd.lakeheadu.ca or call 807-766-7256.