Researchers Investigate Why Cyclists Run Red Lights

PAFF_012815_BikesRunRedLights_newsfeatureMuch like motorists, cyclists don’t always obey traffic laws. From Melbourne to New York City, urban dwellers have grumbled about encounters with bicyclists who brazenly zip straight through red lights without even a glance at oncoming traffic or pedestrians in the crosswalk.

But while risky behavior in motorists has been extensively studied, relatively little research has been published on similar behavior for bicyclists.

To find out more about cyclists’ real world behavior at red lights, psychological scientists Changxu Wu, Lin Yao, and Kan Zhang from the Chinese Academy of Sciences filmed cyclists (both normal bicycles and electronic bicycles) crossing the street at three busy intersections in Beijing.

“The red-light running is often reported as highly dangerous, but we are not exactly sure who the red-light runners are, what factors affect their red-light running decisions, and what the behavior characteristics are,” writes Wu…


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Unraveling Mysteries of Safe Steering with Behavioral Science

PAFF_012115_SteeringBehavior_newsfeaturesWe may take it for granted, but exactly how we steer a car has remained a mystery to researchers for nearly 70 years.

The prevailing theory for how we steer towards a target was initially developed by British researcher Arnold Tustin in 1947. Tustin was a pioneer in the engineering field of control theory which focuses on the interactions between humans and complex machines. According to Tustin’s theory for steering, drivers gently and continuously follow the road with the steering wheel in a linear fashion, known as “tracking in control theory.”

But newly published research from behavioral scientists Ola Benderius and Gustav Markkula of Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden suggests that steering is based on a surprising pattern of movements that resemble reaching.

“We were able to use the theory to explain what researchers had been trying to solve for a…


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Using Science to Help Teach Teens Safe Driving Skills

PAFF_011415_TeachingTeenDrivers_newsfeatureYoung drivers have a reputation for being among the most dangerous on the road for good reason; according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), teen drivers, per mile driven, are nearly three times more likely than drivers older than 20 to be in a fatal crash, particularly in the first few months after receiving their license.

This week at the Transportation Research Board 94th Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., psychological scientists presented innovative research on how we learn to transition from accident-prone novices to safer drivers as we gain experience behind the wheel.

“The over representation of novice drivers in road accidents across the world is consistent. This trend eclipses cultural trends and licensing differences,” says Neale Kinnear, a psychologist at the Transport Research Laboratory in the United Kingdom.

According to Kinnear, a key difference between novice drivers…


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Preventing Road Accidents Before They Can Happen

PAFF_010715_AnticipatingCarAccidents_newsfeaturePerceptual errors, when a driver looks but fails to register pedestrians or other vehicles, are one of the leading causes of car accidents. Sometimes called “looked-but-failed-to-see” accidents, because a driver fails to notice another vehicle even though they looked in the right direction. These errors are particularly common and dangerous in accidents involving bicycles and motorcycles.

On the road, drivers face many simultaneous demands on their attention: pedestrians, traffic light changes, other cars, and following GPS directions. It’s impossible for a driver to focus their full attention on all of these events at once. For example, a driver getting ready to make a right turn might easily overlook a pedestrian crossing on the left side of the street.

As cars are increasingly coming with more automated features, automatic warning systems may soon be able to help alert drivers to potentially dangerous situations…


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Drinking Socially Makes it Harder to Tell When You’re Too Drunk to Drive

PAFF_123014_socialdrinkingdriving_newsfeatureThis New Year’s Eve many partygoers will be ringing in the New Year with a little more to drink than the traditional Champagne toast at midnight, making the holiday one of the deadliest times of the year to be on the road.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, New Year’s Day is the worst day of the year for fatal crashes involving impaired drivers, with data from the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration showing that around 40% of the fatalities over the New Year’s holiday involve a drunk driver.

Many drivers believe that once they stop drinking for the evening they’re safe to hit the road, but alcohol continues to affect cognition and motor skills long after that last drink has been downed.

A new study from psychological scientists Samuel G. Charlton and Nicola J. Starkey of the University…


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