Public Release: 

UI receives $17 million for automotive safety research

Research grants are part of Toyota class action settlement

University of Iowa

The University of Iowa Public Policy Center (PPC) has received three grants totaling $17.2 million to fund automotive safety research and the development and implementation of a national education campaign to help drivers understand the safety systems in their vehicles.

The funds for the grants are provided as part of the Safety Research and Education Program established by the recent Toyota Economic Loss class action settlement in California.

Daniel V. McGehee, director of the PPC's Human Factors and Vehicle Safety Research Program, says of the grant, "We are pleased to have been given the opportunity to win this grant. The work we will do can significantly advance driver safety.

"When large sums are invested into basic research, innovation follows. This is a win-win for both drivers and for science," says McGehee, who also serves as adjunct professor of mechanical and industrial engineering, occupational and environmental health, and emergency medicine.

The projects resulting from the grant will include the following:

  • A national survey on public perceptions of vehicle safety technologies.
  • A national education campaign on vehicle safety technology in which the UI has partnered with the National Safety Council and Iowa City-based Digital Artefacts, LLC.
  • A study at the National Advanced Driving Simulator (NADS) that examines replicating emergency events in a controlled and safe environment.
  • A study in the Department of Neurology to measure and improve younger and older driver behavior when accelerating and decelerating.
  • An engineering analysis being conducted by NADS and the Department of Geography to determine if multiple car sensor systems can be used together to prevent certain types of crashes.

The survey, to be conducted by the UI Social Science Research Center, will be one of the first comprehensive national surveys of consumer driving safety. It will assess knowledge and familiarity with vehicle safety systems and will examine drivers' understanding and use of defensive driving techniques. The results of this survey will be developed into a national education campaign, designed to reach 90 percent of U.S. adults multiple times.

The UI has partnered with the National Safety Council to conduct the national multi-media and education campaign. It will be supported by scientific research and will enhance and promote safer driving among motorists.

"We look forward to working with the University of Iowa to educate drivers to better understand their vehicles and how to most effectively use vehicle safety systems," says John Ulczycki, vice president, National Safety Council.

Founded in 1913 and chartered by Congress, the National Safety Council is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to save lives by preventing injuries and deaths at work, in homes and communities, and on the road through leadership, research, education, and advocacy. NSC advances this mission by partnering with businesses, government agencies, elected officials, and the public in areas where its staff can make the most impact, distracted driving, teen driving, workplace safety, prescription drug overdoses, and safe communities.

Digital Artefacts, an Iowa City-based research and development firm specializing in multi-media, games, mobile applications, and software, will develop interactive computing as part of the education campaign. Digital Artefacts' multidisciplinary team of scientists, artists, and engineers has worked with the UI since 1999, creating state of the art interactive experiences for education and research communities.

"We are delighted to collaborate with the University of Iowa and the National Safety Council to design and develop engaging and effective educational media and content to advance driver safety," says Joan Severson, president of Digital Artefacts.


The UI has been a national leader in driver safety research for over 25 years, and has the advantage of having conducted safety technology design and evaluation using state-of-the-art instrumented vehicles, naturalistic driving technologies, and high fidelity driving simulation at the National Advanced Driving Simulator and other UI facilities.

UI research project leaders include McGehee, overall principal investigator, and key personnel from five other UI colleges: Sue Chrysler, College of Engineering (NADS); Kevin Leicht, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Department of Sociology and Iowa Social Science Research Center; John Murry from the College of Business Department of Marketing; Dr. Matthew Rizzo, Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine Department of Neurology; and Natoshia Askelson and Corinne Peek-Asa from the UI College of Public Health. Kathleen Stewart, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Department of Geography.

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