Research Excellence Program 2014

The ATLAS Center partners embrace the power of competition to produce the highest quality research results. Each institution uses a competitive selection process. Experience has shown that Principal Investigators (PIs) who participate in and are selected from a competitive process are best equipped to produce high-level, peer-reviewed research that is well-organized, productive, and timely. Each partner conducts a competition for research funds using a selection process that follows a peer review process.



Paul Green

Co-Investigators: Brian Lin (UMTRI), Paul Milgram (University of Toronto), Lisa Southwick (Hyundai Kia)

Project Title: Predicting Performance in the Occlusion Compliance Test in NHTSA Distraction Guidelines


NHTSA’s visual-manual guidelines specify how to determine if driver interfaces are distracting. In the visual occlusion method, subjects wear a pair of goggles that cycle between being open (seeing the interface) and closed (not seeing the interface but seeing the road) to determine the task time.

That method was used in a prior project to assess a next generation Hyundai navigation radio. Occlusion task time was estimated using task element times (e.g., button press durations) from SAE Recommended Practice J2365 (written by the Project Director and being revised by him) and Pettitt’s method, that describes what drivers do when occluded.)

To improve those estimates, a frame-by-frame analysis will be carried out to determine the exact time of each hand movement, etc., in the 24 hours of video data, along with the exact times the goggles cycle. Determined will be (1) the distributions of task element times, (2) how well those means compared with the times in J2365, (3) how the measured times were affected by an interrupting occlusion, (4) which task elements begun during vision were continued through occlusion, and other issues. Conceptual and computational human performance models will guide the data analysis.

The results will be summarized in a technical report and SAE J2365 will be revised. Following SAE Safety and Human Factors Committee Practice, there will be periodic presentations to the entire committee (40 members, 80 information recipients) several times per year. In addition, a summary journal article will be produced.

This research will be conducted by a team highly experienced in doing studies of visual occlusion, using data that already exist, to develop a low-cost assessment method codified as an SAE Recommended Practice for a safety-related topic that is of high priority to the US DOT. This represents a fundamental change in driver interface evaluation.


Anuj K. Pradhan                                Lisa Buckley                                           

Co-Investigators: Christopher Monk (University of Michigan), Tina Sayer (Toyota), Bruce Simons-Morton (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development)

Project Title: Risk-taking behaviors and pre-frontal cortex activity of male adolescents in the presence of peer passengers during simulated driving: A function near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) study 


Crash statistics show that adolescent drivers are more likely to be involved in motor vehicle crashes than adults; with the presence of peer passengers being an additional risk factor for crashes. Experimental and observational studies show that risky driving behaviors of male teenagers increase in the presence of male peer passengers. There could be several mechanisms of the influence of peer passengers on teen drivers, however it is evident that the male teenage driver with a male peer passenger makes riskier decisions than when driving alone, when driving with an adult, or when compared to an adult driver.

It has been posited that the developing teenage brain’s activity is different from that of adults during decision making, especially in regions associated with impulse control, response inhibition and risk taking. In order to study risk-taking behavior in simulated driving by male teenagers in the presence of male peer passengers we propose an innovative experimental approach to investigate the brain activity of male teenage and adult drivers while driving alone and in the presence of peer passengers. We propose the use of functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) technology, a non-invasive optical brain imaging method that allows in vivo measurements of oxygenated and deoxygenated hemoglobin in cortical tissue, to study regions in the prefrontal cortex of drivers performing an ecologically valid driving simulation task. Driving related risk-taking behaviors will simultaneously be measured. In addition, participants will undertake a well-validated computerized measure of risk taking (Balloon Analogue Risk Task) as an additional assessment of risk-taking behavior.

We hypothesize that for teenagers the presence of a peer passenger while driving will show different activation in the selected brain regions associated with reward sensitivity, cognitive control, and response inhibition as compared to teenagers driving alone, and that the activation will be different for adults compared to teenagers.

The ATLAS Center is a collaboration between the University of Michigan (U-M) Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) and Texas A&M Transportation Institute