UMass-Amherst Symposium on the Health and Transportation Safety Impacts of Marijuana Legalization

by Tracy Zafian, Research Fellow

 

weed

In early April, the University of Massachusetts-Amherst School of Public Health and Health Sciences hosted a symposium on “Marijuana Legalized: Research, Practice, and Policy Considerations” to examine and discuss the potential public health and transportation safety impacts of marijuana legalization in Massachusetts. Massachusetts legalized marijuana for recreational use through a ballot initiative in the November 2016 election, and retail marijuana sales were permitted in the state in July 2017.

The keynote speaker at the symposium, Darrin Grondel, heads the state Traffic Safety Commission in Washington State and has over 25 years of traffic safety and law enforcement experience. His talk and webinar held the same afternoon, focused on the issues and impacts of impaired driving and drugged driving, and considerations for states developing policies and regulations in response to marijuana legalization.  The slides from the webinar are available here. Washington State was one of the first states to legalize marijuana for recreational use, in 2012, and his presentation focused on Washington’s experiences after legalization. For example, 2014 FARS (Fatal Accident Reporting System) data for Washington revealed that speeding occurred in 35.8% of all fatal marijuana driving cases compared to 25.9% of non-alcohol or non-drug cases.  Also, in Washington, after legalization, more drivers were found to be THC-positive one year after retail sales began, in 2014 than immediately before the sales. THC — tetrahydrocannabinol — is the principal psychoactive chemical compound in marijuana.

Unlike with alcohol and Blood Alcohol Concentrations (BAC), there is no THC-level that has been scientifically proven to be the level above which a driver would be significantly impaired. Alcohol stays in the bloodstream whereas THC goes to fat cells including in the brain.  As discussed in a previous Innovative Outlook article, there are tests and technology, including smartphone apps for assessing impairment.

Other presenters at the symposium included Professors Jennifer Whitehill and Elizabeth Evans, from the UMass-Amherst School of Public Health and Health Sciences, and Cheryl Sbarra, senior staff attorney and Director of Policy and Law with the Massachusetts Association of Health Boards. Professors Whitehill and Evans are currently finishing a study with the UMass Donahue Institute and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health to estimate marijuana use rates before legalization.  As reported in Daily Hampshire Gazette, Whitehill did not discuss any detailed results but she did speak about some general findings and areas for future research.  From that news story: “One thing Whitehill noted is that when looking at fatal motor vehicle crashes, more attention needs to be placed on testing for marijuana and other drugs so as to understand the impact that they might be having on drivers.” She indicated that currently, only about 75% of drivers killed in a crash are tested for drug use after the crash. For non-fatal crashes, almost no drivers are tested for drugs. Drug testing more drivers in non-fatal crashes are one potential future research area. Another is the development of better quantitative methods and measurements for assessing impairment resulting from marijuana use.

For their presentations, Professor Evans discussed gender differences with regards to marijuana use, and lawyer Sbarra talked about municipalities regulating marijuana at the local level.

Among those attending the symposium were local health officials, local police, representatives from the marijuana industry, academic researchers and two members of the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission which is charged with implementing and administering laws for adult marijuana use and access in Massachusetts.

 

Teaching Drivers to Be Safer and More Eco-Friendly

by Tracy Zafian, Research Fellow

eco
From KIA motors- This system restricts engine and transmission performance in favor of fuel economy

Real-time feedback to drivers can help them improve their fuel efficiency and safety. The results of a recent UMass Amherst field study on the Effectiveness of Eco-Driving: Real-Time Feedback and Classroom Training, were presented at the 2018 Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting, by UMass-Amherst graduate student Tao Jiang.

The presentation summarized an UMass-Amherst study undertaken as part of MassDOT Office of Transportation Planning, Research Section and funded with Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) State Planning and Research (SPR) funds. UMass-Amherst Professors, and UMass Transportation Center Research Affiliates, Dr. Daiheng Ni and Dr. Song Gao, oversaw the study. The goal of the project was “to identify and test techniques for modifying driver behavior to improve fuel economy, reduce emissions, and improve safety, in furtherance of the mission and goals of the GreenDOT Implementation Plan.”

Motor vehicles are major contributors to air pollution, and according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), are responsible for close to half the volatile organic compounds that create smog, more than half the nitrogen oxide emissions, and approximately half of the toxic air pollutant emissions in the U.S.

As discussed in the research report, three major characteristics of driving behaviors to improve fuel efficiency, reduce emissions, and improve safety are:

  • Driving smoothly without much acceleration, idling, or traveling at very low speeds (such as in congested stop-and-go traffic).
  • Anticipating traffic and being vigilant about other vehicles in traffic with you and other drivers’ behaviors.
  • Following speed limits on highways and adjusting speeds as needed for adverse conditions.

The study was conducted with 133 MassDOT-owned vehicles (heavy vehicles excluded) and the employees who drive them.  The study included two types of interventions to modify driver behaviors. The first was the installation of an in-vehicle device that provided real-time feedback, including weekly emails, on each driver’s performance over a two and a half month period. The second was a 1.5-hour classroom training on eco-driving. There were four participant groups:  one that received both interventions, one that received real-time feedback only, one that had the classroom training only, and one that had no intervention. Participants’ driving behaviors were evaluated before the intervention phase, during the intervention phase, and afterward.

Major conclusions from this research were as follows:

  • Real-time feedback had a significant impact in reducing speeding and aggressive acceleration.
  • Combined effects of real-time feedback and classroom training contributed to a 0.89 mile per gallon improvement in fuel economy.

The study recommended that both real-time feedback and training, as well as periodic follow-up and monitoring, will maximize the effectiveness of such eco-driving interventions.

Accommodating Truckers Saves Lives and Money

by: Tracy Zafian, Research Fellow

trucks

Statistics have shown that truck driver fatigue is often a leading factor in truck crashes. A truck driver was killed in a multi-vehicle collision on Interstate 91 on January 20, 2018. Though the cause of this crash, which included two tractor-trailers and 4 cars, is still under-investigation, driver fatigue is being considered as one of the causes.

Attention to the need for safe parking and rest areas for commercial truck drivers has grown since the 2012 passage of Jason’s Law, federal legislation in honor of Jason Rivenburg, a truck driver who was killed while pulled over to rest at an abandoned gas station. As discussed in a Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) report, after Jason’s death, his spouse Hope Rivenburg sponsored a study on truck driver’s parking needs.  Among the study’s key findings:

  • 39% percent of the drivers responding take 1 hour or longer to find parking.
  • 53% of drivers regularly use a commercial truck stop for rest and 20% regularly use a rest area. Other options used regularly include shipper/receiver location (20%), on/off ramp (8%), abandoned lot/isolated area (10%), and behind a shopping center (11%).
  • 88% of drivers reported feeling unsafe while parked during mandatory rest or waiting for pickup or delivery of a load over the previous 12 months.

FHWA is working to address this issue. After its passage, Jason’s Law was incorporated into the MAP-21 (Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century) transportation funding bill, and a thorough analysis of truck parking needs was conducted.

Safety and economic impacts of inadequate parking for Commercial Motor Vehicles (CMVs) were evaluated in a recent study conducted at Oregon State University (OSU). The study looked at crashes on U.S. Highway 97, which runs north-south across the state, over a 7-year period. The main finding was that at-fault truck crashes resulted in approximately $75 million of “crash harm.” The researchers estimated that at-fault truck crashes resulted from factors such as driver fatigue which can result from inadequate truck parking options. Researchers found a high need for more safe truck parking, both in Oregon, on Highway 97, and elsewhere.  Federal law restricts drivers from being behind the wheel for more than 11 hours at a time and requires them to park and rest for at least 10 hours before driving again.

Information on the OSU study was based on this Science Daily news report.

 

Drunk Driving…Continues to be a Major Concern

by Tracy Zafian, Research Fellow

dui
from: White & Associates Law, MN

A bold new report leads with that statement and recommends a multi-faceted, comprehensive approach to eliminating drunk-driving related deaths. The report comes from the Committee on Accelerating Progress to Reduce Alcohol-Impaired Driving Fatalities, a committee convened by the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to address this topic. The committee supports the concept of Vision Zero, stating in their report that “no alcohol-impaired driving deaths are acceptable, and that every stakeholder has a role in preventing these deaths.”

“Alcohol-impaired driving remains the deadliest and costliest danger on U.S. roads today.  Every day in the U.S., 29 people die in an alcohol-impaired driving crash – one death every 49 minutes – making it a persistent public health and safety problem.”

The report documents how, beginning in the 1980s, steps were taken to reduce drunk driving and to educate the public about its dangers. Such steps included new laws making it illegal to drive with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level above a certain level. These approaches lead to a decrease in drunk driving-related fatalities for two decades, but now the decline in these fatalities has plateaued. It is clear that a new approach is needed for progress to continue.

The committee created a conceptual framework to show the sequence of behaviors that can lead to an alcohol-impaired driving fatality, potential interventions for this behavior, and important factors that impact outcomes. The interventions would interact with each other at multiple levels, including “individual, interpersonal, institutional, community, and societal.”

The interventions fall into four primary categories:

  • Interventions to reduce drinking to impairment, such as limiting alcohol availability and marketing, especially for under-age drinkers
  • Interventions to reduce driving while impaired, including: creating viable, affordable, safe transportation alternatives for drinkers who may drive; strongly enforcing drunk driving laws; and promoting the use in-vehicle technologies that can restrict drivers with over a threshold BAC level from being able to start their vehicle.
  • Post-arrest and post-crash interventions, such as health care programs for preventing, evaluating, and treating alcohol dependency; and increased support both for first-time driving under the influence (DUI) offenders as well as habitual offenders to modify these behaviors.
  • Data and surveillance systems, including: expanding and standardizing data collection on alcohol-impaired related crashes, arrests, and convictions, long-term outcomes, and why people drive while impaired; and integrating the collected data sets for research, evaluation, and data-sharing purposes.

 Massachusetts has a history of addressing the issue of alcohol-impaired driving using education and enforcement with the coordination of multiple agencies. Each year for example, the state Executive Office of Public Safety and Security leads the Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over enforcement and education effort over the December-New Year holiday season.  This effort includes high visibility police patrols and impaired driving enforcement at high crash locations across the state. One result of Massachusetts’ efforts is that the rate of alcohol-impaired traffic deaths in Massachusetts is consistently among the lowest in the nation. Moreover, the rate of alcohol-related driving deaths in Massachusetts has fallen approximately 20 percent since 2007. However, as with the national trends, the decrease in these deaths in Massachusetts has slowed in recent years, and between 2015 and 2016, there was actually a small increase from 109 to 119 people killed statewide in alcohol-related crashes.

New Federal Committee on Motorcycle Safety Holds First Meeting

by Tracy Zafian, Research Fellow

motocycle

Last month, the Motorcycle Advisory Committee (MAC) held its initial meeting in Arlington, VA. This federal committee was created to advise the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) on motorcycle safety and to identify engineering-related infrastructure solutions for reducing motorcyclist fatalities.

There were 5,286 roadway fatalities nationally involving motorcycles in 2016, an increase of 5% from the previous year. In Massachusetts, 40 motorcyclist fatalities were reported during the same year.

As described on transportation.gov, “the MAC consists of ten members selected by the U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao. [The members] come from across the country and are experts in a wide range of motorcycle-infrastructure topics. Each is a motorcyclist and, combined, the MAC members have over two centuries of riding experience.”

At the first MAC meeting, there were substantial discussions on many infrastructure issues, including work zones, roundabouts, roadside hardware, roadway maintenance practices, the potential consequences of automated vehicles and crash testing, among others. At upcoming meetings, the MAC will determine how to advise FHWA on these issues. For its part, FHWA has research underway to identify key infrastructure-based safety issues for motorcyclists. The centerpiece of this work is the FHWA’s Motorcycle Crash Causation Study. According to the study web site, “The Motorcycle Crash Causation Study is the most comprehensive data collection effort to study the causes of U.S. motorcycle crashes in more than 30 years. The dataset includes data from at least 351 crash investigations, and 702 control rider interviews.”

A couple of current safety features on motorcycles to prevent future fatalities include: new breaking lights and the required anti-lock brake feature. The break light feature is the first wearable brake light connected to a smart phone app.  The anti-lock brake feature has been an option on motorcycles for years, but it may soon become a requirement based on the safety advantages.

In addition to technology and infrastructure improvements for motorcycle safety, some changes in how motorcyclists are trained may be warranted as well. Researchers at UMass-Amherst, led by now Ph.D. graduate Jeffrey Muttart, have conducted field studies on motorcyclist eye glance and driving behavior, including studies where participants went through the same on-road course as car drivers and as motorcyclists. Key findings in one study were that motorcyclists were less likely to come to a complete stop at a stop sign than car drivers, and that study participants made later final glances toward the direction of the most threatening traffic before they made a turn when they were driving a car than when they were riding a motorcycle.

Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacon Devices Rescinded

by: Matt Mann, Research Program Coordinator

RecRap2
A Rectangular Rapid Flash Beacon (RRFB). Source: Carol Kachadoorian (2012)

Many Massachusetts towns and educational institutions, like UMass Amherst, have installed Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacon (RRFB) devices at crosswalks, to alert drivers of a pedestrian crossing. This will be changing in the future. The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) prohibits patented devices from experimentation, Interim Approval (IA), or inclusion in the MUTCD. Based on an Interim Approval, in June 2008, for this device, the US Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Division recently rescinded all new RRFB devices. Existing devices, already installed, can remain in-place for their useful life.  Additional information will be forth coming.  Please contact FHWA Massachusetts division office for guidance.

New Year, New UMass Human Performance Lab Web Site

By Tracy Zafian, UMTC Research Fellow

HPL
Photo Source: Shannon Roberts, Human Performance Lab, UMass Amherst

The Human Performance Lab (HPL) based at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst has a brand new look! The HPL was originally created by Professor Donald Fisher in the 1990s and is world-renowned for its work on teen driver training. In 2016, the University of Massachusetts Transportation Center (UMTC) Affiliate Researcher Professor Shannon Roberts joined the HPL and now serves as the HPL co-director, overseeing research activities of the lab and day-to-day operations. Professor Roberts’ research is focused on driver feedback, in-vehicle interface design, automated vehicles, and teen/novice drivers. Her research group’s web site has information on her team and other interests.

With Dr. Robert’s arrival, the lab underwent significant changes. Upgrades include a new vehicle (2015 Ford Fusion), five new projectors with an expanded field of view of 330 degrees, new channels for displaying the side and rear-view mirrors and a new in-vehicle display.  The HPL has also obtained other new equipment including Virtual Reality (VR) headsets for delivering training and using with simulations, and a new heart-rate monitor to use with participants in lab studies.  Coming soon will be an instrumented vehicle for use with on-road studies.  The upgraded equipment will significantly expand the lab’s research capabilities.  One recent new area of research for the lab involves autonomous vehicles.  This is the transfer of driving control from driver to vehicle, and drivers’ awareness of their surroundings and ability to respond to potential roadway hazards as they switch from autonomous modes that require more attention and input from the driver, to those that require less attention.

As it has since its beginning, the lab, based in the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, continues to collaborate with other departments at UMass-Amherst including Civil Engineering, the UMTC, Computer Science, Electric and Computer Engineering, and Psychology.

Where is my Snowplow? Snowplow Apps and Cams Comfort Drivers

by Tracy Zafian, UMTC Research Fellow

MNDOT_snowplow_webcam
Minnesota DOT

When snowy weather comes, drivers want to know which roads have been plowed and what the road conditions are.  A number of state Departments of Transportation (DOT) are now providing the public access to the real-time data that the DOTs collect on roads and plows.  Some states even have snowplow dashboard cameras so people can watch the plows at work and see the roads as the plow drivers see them.

The Iowa DOT’s Track a Plow program started in 2013. Track a Plow lets anyone with Internet access see where plows are operating, and view photos taken from cameras attached to plow windshields.  As described on the Iowa DOT web site, “the data and images coming from the snowplow trucks are part of a larger data collection process that includes global positioning satellite and advanced vehicle location technology to help the Iowa DOT make smarter decisions related to treating Iowa’s roadways. Eric Abrams, the Iowa DOT’s geographic information systems (GIS) coordinator, developed the architecture behind the public website. ‘Our snowplow trucks are now equipped to collect a wealth of information. Some of it is more useful to managers and supervisors at the DOT and some of it helps everyone. We’ve made the data available in a variety of layers on the track a plow site so people can pick and choose what they want to see. So far, the camera layer has been the most popular with the public.’”

The Michigan DOT (MDOT) piloted its snowplow tracking program for the past few winters and has now expanded it statewide. The department’s Mi Drive website and app for traffic conditions lets people see where MDOT snowplows are and also whether they are actively plowing or applying ice melting materials. Some of the plows also have webcams which can be viewed through Mi Drive. As the MLive newsite reported, “MDOT has long allowed access to traffic cameras and images, but this new feature will show the havoc of Michigan’s winter with a first-person (vehicle) view.”  Information on the web site and app is updated every 60-90 seconds. According to MDOT, the Mi Drive app version is especially popular with motorists as it is faster and easier to use than the web site and allows more customization.

The Minnesota DOT (MNDOT) pilot tested snowplow cams for the first time last year and put them on about 200 plows (25% of the MNDOT fleet). A short video on this MNDOT initiative can be seen here.  The snowplow info shared with the public by MNDOT is part of the Minnesota’s 511 road information system (511mn.org).

Other state DOTs do not have web cams on their snowplows yet but still share weather and snowplow data online, and give the public access to some of their GIS data layers used by staff. The Pennsylvania DOT shares snowplow locations through its 511pa.com site. The Utah DOT (UDOT) includes a snowplow layer in its real-time UDOT Traffic web site and smartphone app. This website and app gives plow locations and shows where the plows have traveled in the last 30 minutes (the data is updated every 3-5 minutes). Last winter, the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) launched its Find My Plow site which helps motorists see where plows have been, and when the next plow is coming, so they can plan their driving trips accordingly.

 

Traffic Apps Impact on Neighborhoods and Safety

by Tracy Zafian, Research Fellow

Apps
Photo by Noe Veloso Fremont, CA Public Works Department

Smart phone apps, such as Waze and Google Maps, help drivers find the quickest routes to their destinations using real-time traffic data.  Sometimes this means that drivers are being directed off congested highways to streets through residential neighborhoods instead. Not everyone is happy about this, including traffic planners and people living in these neighborhoods who don’t want higher volumes of traffic on their streets.

News media have reported these impacts of traffic apps on Cape Cod neighborhoods, and in the Boston area.  Quoting Police Sergeant Charles Hartnett, head of Medford’s traffic division, in one news report: “For the residents, it’s a safety issue.”  Some communities are responding by restricting a cut-through and turning movements into residential neighborhoods during commuting hours when the traffic is heaviest.  In some places, certain streets are being changed to one-way roads as another means to divert traffic.  When such changes are made, transportation planners often share these updates with the app companies so that their maps and algorithms can be adjusted accordingly.

The traffic apps can also present a challenge to safety officials in emergency situations.  For example, in the Los Angeles area, while officials were busy fighting wildfires, they implored residents to ignore the apps that were directing them to lightly traveled roads in the fire zones, and put up message signs telling drivers “Don’t Trust Your Apps.” As described in this USA Today article, the fires and evacuation orders were the reason the traffic volumes is these areas were so low.  In Vermont, the shortest way isn’t always the safest way.  Cars have been abandoned because the driver followed Google maps, only to end up on a road that was not maintained in the winter.

Do You Trust Vehicles To Do The Driving?

by Courtney Murtagh and Melissa Paciulli, Manager of Research

While Boston is positioned to become a hub for autonomous vehicles, buy-in from the public, remains a potential hurdle.   New research based out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), indicated that people aren’t so sure about self-driving cars.  The study surveyed 3,000 Bostonians of different ages. Half of those interviewed, said they would never buy a self-driving car due to safety, and citing that they did not trust technology.

Researchers at UMass Amherst are studying driver trust to determine how technology impacts human behavior.  Foroogh Hajiseyedjavadi, a PhD Candidate in the Transportation Engineering program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, was interviewed this past week about her research.

“Inappropriate level of trust in the technology, whether it is over trust or under-trust, would negatively affect the benefits of that technology,” said Hajiseyedjavadi.

Hajiseyedjavadi is evaluating drivers’ trust in automated vehicles and believes that understanding peoples trust in automated vehicles will help enhance human automation interaction models.

“Automated driving is expected to enhance traffic safety and flow,” said Hajiseyedjavadi in her executive summary. “The system will not be as effective if users do not accept it or do not utilize it appropriately.”

Hajiseyedjavadi’s research is in two phases; the first phase being a 68 question survey distributed to participants online with questions that include general demographics, their driving history, and questions about their psychological and personal traits. This phase also addressed a persons’ previous experiences with automated systems, like ATM’s and vending machines, and their experience with computers.“The hope is that the results of this part will give some basic understanding of the level of trust consumers have even before experiencing the technology,” said Hajiseyedjavadi.

The second phase of the research was conducted in the Arbella Human Performance Lab at UMass Amherst, on a driving simulator which included simulation of autonomous controls within the vehicle. Hajiseyedjavadi and her team recruited 80 people to participate in the study and programmed different driving scenarios.

During the simulated drives, there were different levels of automation and functionality that the driver would experience. Either the driver would get an autonomous driving system that worked fine, or the driver would get an autonomous vehicle with a 12 percent or even a 25 percent failure rate.

“We have never scripted a crash. The 12 and 25 percent failure comes when the autonomous vehicle sensors fail. This occurs at either a pedestrian crossing or an intersection. For these failures, it is up to the driver to correct the mistake,” said Hajiseyedjavadi.

Sensors are set up during the simulation that measure the vehicles speed, lane keeping, acceleration, and deceleration. Another set of data is the physiological data of the subject. The driver wears a heart rate and variability sensor. There are also two sets of video cameras showing the hand movements on the steering wheel and the foot petals. This is to see when drivers are engaging in the system.

After the simulations the team would ask the participants to complete a second questionnaire about their level of trust while driving and their mental workload.

“All this data combined is hopefully going to give us a better understanding of the level or trust and how people are interacting with the vehicle,” said Hajiseyedjavadi.

“Trust is one of those things that control people’s use of the system,” continued Hajiseyedjavadi citing why this study is so important.

She said in order to improve drivers’ trust in automated vehicles, scientist need to improve the level of reliability of the system.

Communicating and teaching drivers how to use the technology is also essential, according to Hajiseyedjavadi.

“We are definitely going to see automated driving cars in the future,” said Hajiseyedjavadi. “I don’t know exactly how many years but we are definitely going to have them soon.”