Distracted Walking: A Global Epidemic

By Courtney Murtagh, Tracy Zafian, and Matt Mann, UMTC Research Staff

Most of us are aware of the dangers of distracted driving, but distracted walking? Around the world and close to home, it’s a growing epidemic. More and more people are texting and using their phones while walking in intersections, creating unsafe situations.

distracted_peds_source_Premier_Insurance_Corp
source: Premier Insurance Corporation

A 2017 report by the Governors Highway Safety Association found that pedestrian roadway deaths in the US are now at their highest level in over 20 years, with more than 6,000 pedestrian fatalities in 2016. An article in the May 2017 MassDOT Innovative Outlook, discussed a number of contributing factors for this, including: more driving; alcohol use by drivers and pedestrians; lack of pedestrian visibility; and driver and pedestrian distractions.

Dr. Cole Fitzpatrick, a UMTC Affiliate Researcher, recently conducted a field study on the prevalence of distracted walking and its effect on driver behavior. The study included observations of a total of 1,386 pedestrian crossings and 890 pedestrian-vehicle interactions at seven different crosswalks on the UMass Amherst campus. The researchers found that nearly half of all pedestrians were distracted while crossing the street, with 22% of them talking to another person beside them, 16% using headphones, and 10% either texting or talking on their phones.

Cities have begun to take notice of distracted walkers and are looking for ways to improve intersection and crosswalk safety. In October 2017, Honolulu enacted a law allowing pedestrians who text on their phones while crossing the street to be fined $15 to $99 for doing so.  This new law is thought to be the first such law of its kind in the country. Prior to October,  Honolulu had more pedestrians being hit  by vehicles in crosswalks, than any other major US City. Local high school students were instrumental in pushing for this law. Kel Hirohata, a local high school teacher interviewed on National Public Radio recently, described how the Youth for Safety club at Waipahu High School spent more than a week watching fellow students as they left school. They noticed an alarming trend: many of their classmates staring at their phones while crossing the street. The Safety club members took note of the potential danger, and then followed up with a local councilmember who wrote a bill which then became the new law.

Legislators in other places have also proposed laws to curb texting while walking. In San Mateo County, California, County board members unanimously voted in favor of a resolution in September 2017 asking state lawmakers to pass a law banning cell phone use in crosswalks. Stamford, Connecticut is now considering an ordinance that would ban cell phone talking or texting while crossing the street and impose a $30 fine for offenders. In September 2017, New York State passed a law requiring the New York City Transportation Department to study and report on its efforts to educate drivers and walkers about the dangers of pedestrians distracted by cell phones.  In Massachusetts a bill was introduced this November to ban texting while jaywalking. No action has yet been taken on this proposed legislation.

It’s not just in the United States that officials are looking into distracted walking. Bodegraven, Amsterdam for example installed lights in the ground near crosswalks that would change colors with the traffic lights, so people looking down on their phones would be more aware of the nearby traffic and when it’s safe to cross.

LED_sidewalk_lights_in_Amsterdam_Lichtlijn-Foto-Gemeente-Bodegraven_source_www_omroepwest_nl
LED sidewalk lights in Amsterdam. Source: http://www.omroepwest.nl

 

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Live from NYC-Times Square – UMass Raises Awareness about Texting and Driving

NYCText
Source: University of Masaschusetts-Amherst

By Melissa Paciulli, Manager of Research, and Tracy Zafian, Research Fellow 

UMass at Time Square! A billboard designed by UMass-Amherst students to raise awareness of the dangers of texting while driving is currently being displayed in Times Square in New York. The billboard will also be displayed on Route 9, Interstate 495 near Lawrence and Methuen and I-290 in Worcester, Massachusetts. Other locations around the country will also display the sign.

The billboard was created with the help of the UMass Adlab at the Isenberg School of Management at UMass-Amherst, under the guidance of Isenberg professor Elizabeth Miller by UMass student Kyle Pandiscio (’19) and now graduate Julia Keefe.  At the UMass Adlab, students develop advertisement and campaign images to market “change” for real-life clients.

As described in this UMass press release,  Keefe and Pandiscio won the Project Yellow Light billboard Public Service Annoucement (PSA) competition with a billboard design autocorrecting “Don’t Text and Drive” to “Don’t Text and Die” to enforce the concept that a texting accident can occur in a split second. Their billboard design was selected from 1,150 entries.  Pandiscio and Keefe realized the irony of creating a billboard when the campaign’s whole point is for drivers to keep their eyes on the road, so they maximized the impact by making the format the text message itself. “When people are driving, the last thing [we] want to do is create a billboard that is distracting,” Pandiscio told the Boston Globe.

The Project Yellow Light competition was sponsored by the Ad Council, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Safety Administration, the National Organizations for Youth Safety, U-Haul, Mazda, Clear Channel, and I Heart Radio.  The contest included categories for video, radio and billboard PSAs, with entries submitted by high school and college students.

UMTC Affiliates & MassDOT Assistant Secretary Katherine Fichter Present at WPI Conference on Vehicle Automation

By Tracy Zafian, UMTC Research Fellow

In May 2017, Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) held its second annual Connected and Autonomous Vehicles Summer School speaker series, sponsored by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Vehicular Technology Society (IEEE VTS). The event included two days of lectures and discussions.

CAV intersection
Photo source: U.S. Department of Transportation
  • Danjue Chen, Professor at UMass-Lowell and UMTC Affiliate, discussed the impacts of connected and automated vehicles (CAVs) on traffic operations and highway traffic flow, and how CAVs can help optimize roadway capacity and traffic control. Professor Chen is the featured researcher in this month’s Innovative Outlook (IO).
  • Hossein Pishro-Nik, Professor at UMass-Amherst and UMTC Affiliate, spoke about Vehicular Ad Hoc Networks (VANETs) for vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-roadway infrastructure communications. His talk discussed the relationship between communications and safety in VANETs, how VANETs can be customized for different traffic conditions and individual drivers, and the issues of privacy in VANETs and Internet-connected devices and applications. Professor Pishro-Nik’s research is described in more detail in another post.
  • Jason Rife, Professor at Tufts University, presented information on different GPS-based technologies and applications that can assist with automated vehicles and navigation, even in dense urban areas with limited sky visibility.
  • Bob Sletten, Engineering Manager at Autoliv, a company that develops automotive safety systems for auto manufacturers, spoke about radar technology in automotive applications.
  • Akshay Rajhans, Senior Research Scientist at MathWorks, spoke about model-based design for connected autonomous vehicles. As described in the WPI conference program, “model-based design makes use of computational models of systems under design that are developed, optimized and checked after correctness specifications throughout the design cycle.”
  • Alexander Wyglinski, WPI Professor and organizer of the conference, provided an overview of vehicular communication systems and the fundamental concepts for understanding, designing, and implementing them.

The keynote speaker at the gathering was Katherine Fichter, Assistant Secretary for Policy Coordination at MassDOT. Ms. Fichter discussed the potential future impacts of driverless vehicles under different scenarios, including a Driverless Utopia and a Driverless Nightmare that were described in Driving Towards Driverless Cars, a blog by Lauren Isaac. Under these scenarios, autonomous vehicles are expected to improve roadway safety, increase vehicle miles traveled, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but there are other potential impacts that are less certain. For example, will more driverless cars reduce urban sprawl or increase it, and how will the mobility of low-income people be impacted? As Ms. Fichter discussed, there are questions as well about how autonomous vehicles will be regulated and insured. One big challenge is that current regulations are all based on the idea that vehicles have human operators; this will need to change.

GM Rolling Out AV Fleet

By Tracy Zafian, UMTC Research Fellow

General Motors Company (GM) announced in mid-June that it completed production of 130 self-driving Chevrolet Bolt electric vehicles for testing automated vehicle (AV) technologies on-road. These highly automated vehicles (HAVs) join GM’s more than 50 Chevrolet Bolts with AV technologies already operating on public roads in San Francisco, Detroit, and Scottsdale, Arizona. In April 2017, Spectrum, the flagship magazine for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), reported on GM plans to have as many as 300 more self-driving vehicles on-road, presumably including the recently completed 130 vehicles. According to Spectrum, GM would then have the largest HAV fleet on-road not only in the United States, but worldwide. Google-based Waymo has the second-largest AV fleet in the United States, with an estimated 160 vehicles on-road.

GM CEO & Chairman Mary Barra with a new Chevrolet Bolt AV (Photo by Paul Sancya, Associated Press)

In GM’s announcement regarding the 130 new self-driving Bolts, GM Chairman and CEO Mary Barra is quoted: “This production milestone brings us one step closer to making our vision of personal mobility a reality …. Expansion of our real-world test fleet will help ensure that our self-driving vehicles meet the same strict standards for safety and quality that we build into all of our vehicles.” CEO Barra has also said that “no other company today has the unique and necessary combination of technology, engineering and manufacturing ability to build autonomous vehicles at scale.”

The new self-driving version of the Chevrolet Bolt is the second generation of GM’s AVs and is capable of handling almost any roadway situation without human driver intervention. The new Bolts are equipped with the latest technologies in cameras, radar (LiDAR), sensors, and related hardware. “There are even a couple of cameras that are dedicated just to seeing traffic lights to make sure you don’t run red lights,” said Kyle Vogt, CEO of Cruise Automation, a self-driving software company that GM acquired in 2016. The GM HAVs always have an employee in the driver’s seat for safety reasons, just in case any intervention is needed. Almost all states with HAV regulations also have the requirement that a human operator be present.

In 2016, GM also partnered with and invested $500 million in ride-sharing company Lyft. In a recent Forbes article, Cruise CEO Vogt wouldn’t confirm a Reuters report that “thousands” of self-driving Chevrolet Bolt hatchbacks will go into service for ride-hailing company Lyft in 2018, but said it wouldn’t be surprising. “We’ve had a plan in place for a while and it’s going according to schedule. From what I can tell it’s much faster and going to happen much sooner than most people in the industry think,” Vogt said. “We’re planning to deploy in a rideshare environment, and very quickly.

‘Look Mom, no hands….’ TRANSFER CONTROL TO YOUR CAR? Not that far off in the future

lookmanohandsIn the fall of 2016, the US Department of Transportation announced new policies and initiatives for autonomous vehicles (AV) and AV research. The new Federal Automated Vehicles Policy is based on the US DOT’s view that  automated, autonomous vehicles can help promote safety, mobility, sustainability. With the increase use of AVs and semi-autonomous vehicles, there are some potential safety concerns as well, including relating to the ability of people using such vehicles to respond to potential hazards and potentially hazardous situations.

Siby Samuel, PhD, a UMTC Research Affiliate in Industrial Engineering at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, and colleagues, including Shlomo Zilberstein in the Computer Science Department, have been studying the topic of semi-autonomous vehicles and safety for a number of years. Their research has focused on situations where the control of driving transfers to the vehicle in uncomplicated driving environments (such as a limited access highway), but where drivers still need to be prepared to take back control of the vehicle  to address potential hazards that arise.  This level of driving automation is known as Level 3 automation. Zilberstein and two of his graduate assistants, Kyle Wray and Luis Pineda, are researching how to transfer control “quickly, safely and smoothly back and forth” between the system and the person operating it. All of these studies were conducted on UMass’s Advanced Driving Simulator ( http://www.ecs.umass.edu/hpl/ ).

“The real trend in artificial intelligence is to build systems that can collaborate with people,” Zilberstein said. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

At the Transportation Research Board (TRB) Annual Meeting in January 2017 Dr. Samuel’s team presented two recent studies on Level 3 driving automation and the time it takes for drivers to be able to respond to potential hazards when the driving control of the vehicle needs to switch from the automated system to the driver.

An earlier study by Samuel and Zilberstein also looked at this transfer of control on the driving simulator.  Participants were instructed to transfer control to automation upon hearing an audio alert “transfer control”, and then later they were told with another audio alert “take over control” when they were to resume manual control of the vehicle. During the automated driving phase, participants were instructed to do tasks on a computer tablet. This study found that the minimum transfer of control altering time required for drivers in a Level 3 driving environment to respond to a potential hazard was 8 seconds when the hazard was expected, when the roadway environment was not changing during the transfer of control process, and when they were doing tasks on a computer tablet during the automation part of the drive. In other words, it took 8 seconds for these drivers to anticipate hazards at a rate equivalent to that of drivers who were manually driving their vehicles and weren’t distracted with in-vehicle tasks.   In one study presented at this year’s TRB meeting, Samuel and colleagues found that more informative audio alerts, for example a message telling a participant about at at-grade rail crossing or a lane reduction ahead could reduce the needed time for participants to respond to a potential hazard by as much as 40% or 4 seconds.

UMass Affiliate Researchers make headlines on driverless cars:
http://www.gazettenet.com/University-of-Massachusetts-researchers-study-how-to-make-self-driving-cars-safer-3711488 (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

Written by Tracy Zafian, UMTC Research Fellow

Norwegian Schoolchildren: The “secret agent” in improving traffic and pedestrian safety

By Adrian  Ayala, UMTC Research Staff

When it comes to urban planning, the group of citizens with the least political clout in discussions regarding the future of our cities is often the same group whose voices need to be heard the most – children.

kids_app

In order to promote safe walking to school and to alleviate parents’ fears along the route, the city of Oslo, Norway has developed a cutting edge crowdsourced gaming application that allows for direct input from schoolchildren. Oslo’s 44,000 schoolchildren are the city’s most active group of walkers, and thus, their input is essential in improving roads and increasing traffic security. Created by the Agency of the Urban Environment alongside the Norwegian Center for Transportation Research, “Traffic Agent” targets school children on their walk to school, and by using a game design, they receive large amounts of data on the condition of roads and the safety of the users of urban infrastructure.

The application uses GPS in order to collect data on children’s travel patterns, as well as allowing schoolchildren to report dangerous and favorable spots along the way. Some characteristics of the walking route that the users can report are “heavy/low traffic”, “high speed vehicles”, “poor visibility”, “lack of sidewalk,” among others. The GPS capabilities of the app are particularly gps_appuseful for the municipality of Oslo, as they can precisely locate areas in which better safety measures are needed. This will allow them to add better lighting, road maintenance, additional street signs, and law enforcement to the areas in need.

The application also works directly with the Oslo public schools and through a special website designed for instructors, the students are given an anonymous code which allows them to access the app and report dangers along the way to school. Throughout the design of the app, anonymity of minors was of utmost concern, and through working collaboratively with the schools, the children’s identities can be protected. The data collected is only visible to the school and the federal project team. Furthermore, the teacher can access the data and discuss with their class on ways to arrive to school safer.

The gaming aspect of the app revolves around children being “secret agents” on the lookout for hazards. The interface features lively animations and an “agent’s” voice, in order to help children who are not yet at the proper reading level to utilize the app’s menu without additional help. The app allows the children to choose sex, transport method, and who they travel with (parent, classmates, other adults/older children). At the end of their route, they are asked to submit their trip to “headquarters” and are then congratulated for their efforts in keeping the city safe.

interface_app

The Traffic Agent app is one of many in terms of Norway’s efforts to improve pedestrian safety, move towards greater sustainability and decrease the use of cars. The city government also plans to use the app’s data to move their goal of banning private vehicles in the city center by 2019 forward. To try the app, one can search “Trafikkargenten” in the iOS or Android store, and log in using agent code 4320771.

 

UMass Researchers Crowdsource Data to Provide Travel Information

Dr. Lance Fiondella gave a talk on “Software Tools to Support Transportation Network Performance and Vulnerability Analysis.”  He highlighted his recent research, working closely with Venkateswaran Shekar, a PhD student, on developing a Smartphone Application that will be able to capture individual geographical coordinates to better understand individual travel behavior. The crowdsourced coordinates are uploaded every 3 seconds which allows the researchers to capture the travel path and time, and then calculate speed of an individual walking, biking or driving. There is also a feature that allows voluntary input of demographic data which will allow for more sophisticated data analysis on travel patterns across key demographics. Researchers are also looking into developing additional features such as allowing the user to call for help and the App will provide geographical coordinates.

Dr. Fiondella is an Assistant Professor at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth in the Electrical and Computer Science Department. Check out the presentation here. Learn more about Dr. Fiondella here.

By Melissa Paciulli, UMTC Manager of Research