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Duke Joins New Carolina Center on Road Safety

Duke engineers to lead research on the safety of driverless cars

Originally reported by UNC-Chapel Hill News

Mary "Missy" CummingsDuke University will join a new National University Transportation Center run by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Highway Safety Research Center. Funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation, the new center will look to reduce vehicular fatalities and injuries across the nation.

The Collaborative Sciences Center for Road Safety (CSCRS) will receive $2.8 million in funding in its first year and will be eligible to receive up to $15 million over the next five. By offering a new paradigm for how to understand and address traffic safety issues, the center will conduct collaborative, multidisciplinary research and education and technology transfer activities to improve road safety in the U.S.

Mary “Missy” Cummings, professor of mechanical engineering and materials science and director of the Humans and Autonomy Lab at Duke, will lead the center’s efforts to prepare for the advent of driverless cars.

“I testified last March in front of the Senate Commerce Committee that not enough was being done to address the thorny issues that arise when humans are paired with imperfect self-driving cars,” said Cummings. “Given our extensive research in human-autonomous system interaction, the Humans and Autonomy Laboratory is excited to team with UNC to bring our world-renowned sociotechnical research methods to bear for such an important growth area that will affect almost every American’s daily life.”

Cummings is leading a research study on Duke’s campus that is examining how pedestrians interact with driverless cars by equipping vehicles with various types of signaling devices meant to inform pedestrians of their planned movements. The new center will help expand this research to identify how increasing levels of autonomy will affect safety. It will seek to better understand how humans interact with driverless cars, both on the road and behind the wheel.

"We must build a smarter, safer transportation future with dynamic travel choices, capacity, and infrastructure for all road users,” said Rep. David Price, ranking member of the U.S. House Appropriations subcommittee responsible for transportation and housing. “The Collaborative Sciences Center for Road Safety will make an invaluable contribution to our understanding of how best to do so.”

Led by UNC’s Highway Safety Research Center in collaboration with the University’s department of city and regional planning and the Injury Prevention Research Center, the CSCRS unites leading transportation research, planning, public health, data science and engineering programs at UNC-Chapel Hill, Duke, Florida Atlantic and the Universities of California, Berkeley and Tennessee--Knoxville.

HSRC Director David Harkey will serve as the CSCRS director and lead a multifaceted team of national and international experts.

“It is time to rethink our approach to road safety,” said Harkey. “The CSCRS provides an opportunity to find new ways to address legacy safety issues, such as impaired driving and speeding, which continue to claim the lives of thousands of road users each year. At the same time, we will explore how today’s research can help us prepare for the challenges that tomorrow will bring, such as traffic safety problems brought on by changes in technology or sociodemographic shifts.”

With more than $2.8 million in the first year, this grant is one of 32 five-year awards and one of five national centers that will be awarded to lead consortia under the University Transportation Centers program to advance research and education programs that address critical transportation challenges facing the nation. Subsequent awards using federal fiscal 2017 to fiscal 2020 funding will be made annually, subject to availability of funds and grantee compliance with grant terms and conditions.