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UMTRI Symposium: Trends pose challenges for transportation

October 11, 2016

The second annual UMTRI Transportation Safety Research Symposium took place on Thursday, October 6, at the U-M Michigan League. The daylong event featured more than twenty transportation experts in four panel sessions, seventeen student posters, and two guest speakers. Keynote speaker Vinn White of the U.S.DOT described the current transportation context nationwide. 

Much has been accomplished over the last forty years in terms of vehicle-safety improvements, said Vinn White, acting assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation, at U-M on October 6. Yet despite the technological advancements, daunting safety challenges remain. 

White, who was the morning keynote speaker at the annual UMTRI Transportation Safety Research Symposium, highlighted recent motor-vehicle fatality data that shows an increase from 32,744 fatalities in 2014 to 35,092 in 2015—the greatest single-year increase in the last fifty years. Reducing this number warrants continued research to help understand and address underlying factors.  

On a technological front, connected and automated vehicles have the potential to reduce unimpaired vehicle crashes by an estimated 80 percent, White said. He highlighted the DOT’s recent Federal Automated Vehicles Policy, noting that the need for public understanding, knowledge, and acceptance is more important than ever.  

“Our task at DOT, as we move to this new level of technology, is the same as it ever was—to ensure public safety,” said White, “and frankly, to leverage every tool we have to reduce 35,092." 

Transportation System Impacts

Looking forward, White outlined a number of societal trends that will evolve over the next few decades in America—among them population growth, an increase in the number of older citizens, and the emergence of large urban clusters or megaregions—that will impact the nation's transportation network.

By the year 2045, the population iexpected to increase by 70 million new Americans. The result, said White, is that as a nation we’re going to see a spike in demand for travel and subsequently an increase in congestion. White referenced the U.S. DOT draft document Beyond Traffic: Trends and Choices 2045, which describes these trends, their implications for the transportation network, and choices and opportunities.

Part of the Beyond Traffic narrative addresses how the nation can overcome these serious challenges over the next few decades, he said, which will be accomplished by advancements and innovations and supported by research and data. 

Improving Safety on our Roads

Following this theme, UMTRI assistant research scientist Monica Jones moderated the symposium’s first panel session, Improving Safety on Our Roads, showcasing a variety of UMTRI research projects that use data-driven approaches to address motor-vehicle safety challenges. UMTRI presenters included associate research scientist Daniel Blower, assistant research scientist Lisa Buckley, associate research scientist David LeBlanc, and assistant research scientist Anuj Pradhan. 

Research projects in the safety panel encompassed an analysis of the underlying factors behind crash-data trends from 2001 to 2012; evaluation of an intervention protocol to improve seatbelt fit for drivers; a yearlong field study examining how drivers use crash-avoidance systems; and an overview of the different approaches and methods used in human factors research and its increasing importance as automated vehicles become more prevalent. 

Download presentations (PDF):

Mobility in a Diverse Society 

The second panel session, moderated by UMTRI associate research scientist Lisa Molnar, brought together a number of innovative research initiatives that addressed methods to ensure mobility in a diverse society. Alexandra Murphy, assistant professor in the U-M Department of Sociology, presented a novel approach to measuring mobility, a Transportation Security Index, to assess an individual’s ability to get to the places he or she needs to go, which can allow or limit access to employment, education, and healthcare. 

UMTRI research professor David Eby, director of the ATLAS Center, presented results of a comprehensive study funded by the Michigan Department of Transportation that examined the mobility needs of Michigan’s older citizens. About 10 percent of Michigan’s population is age 70 or older, said Eby, and more than 80 percent are licensed to drive. Through the project, the website Safe Drivers Smart Options, was created to provide much-needed information and resources to help Michigan’s older citizens drive safely or access alternative mobility services as they transition to non-driving. 

Afternoon keynote speaker Jurek Grabowski, research director at the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, also touched on this theme, noting that the nation’s population is getting proportionately older. According to Grabowski, 322,803 people turn 60 every month, making research on the mobility needs of older citizens extremely important. He recognized UMTRI as being among the research partners involved in the important LongROAD Senior Cohort Study

Robert Hampshire, UMTRI assistant research professor, and Pascal Van Hentenryck, professor in the U-M Department of Industrial and Operations Engineering, rounded out the mobility panel session with presentations on urban mobility relative to accessibility to services in the “sharing economy,” such as peer-to-peer car sharing, and analysis and optimization of urban transit systems. 

Download presentations (PDF):

Energy and Emerging Technologies 

Energy and emerging technologies highlighted the third panel session at the UMTRI symposium. Moderated by UMTRI associate research scientist Shan Bao, the session featured thought-provoking presentations by research professor John DeCicco of the U-M Energy Institute, UMTRI research professor Henry Liu, and UMTRI associate research scientist Kathy Klinich. 

Download presentations (PDF):

The final panel session featured research projects that recently won UMTRI Research Excellence Awards. The session was moderated by UMTRI research associate professor Carol Flannagan, and included presentations by UMTRI associate research scientist Jingwen Hu, senior research associate Miriam Manary, assistant research scientist Daniel Park, research area specialist lead Sheila Ebert, and associate research scientist John Sullivan.  

Download presentations (PDF):

A poster awards presentation capped off the daylong symposium, moderated by UMTRI research professor Ray Bingham. 

--By Joyce Daniels, UMTRI