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One of Ford's simulator suits used in the young-motorist program Ford Driving Skills for Life. The program runs in 29 countries and is tailored for specific issues in each (click on arrowhead at upper right of illustration to see additional illustrations).

Safety symposium cites training and technology to reduce teen fatalities, accidents

Teens are 4% of the driving population, but are involved in 8% of the accidents, the annual Traffic Safety Symposium of the New York Auto Show was told by Jim Allen, director of the Governors Traffic Safety Committee of New York. Further, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) data says some 2600 teens were killed, 7% of the total, making traffic fatalities the No. 1 cause of teen deaths; and more than 130,000 are injured, per 2013 national statistics. With those numbers, the symposium put a focus on steps that could be taken to reduce them.

Featured were speakers from Ford and Kia, NHTSA and two non-government organizations, New Jersey Manufacturers Insurance Group and Teen Impact Driving.

Additionally, the forum looked at technology proposals from a knowledgeable group of teens themselves: students studying the causes of auto accidents at the School of Design at the University of Bridgeport, CT.

Car manufacturers sponsor numerous hands-on safe-driving programs, most with an emphasis toward teens. A technology approach from Ford that has translated into "feel it" understanding is the use of simulator suits, which were described by Ford's Kyle Green, of the company's Driving Skills for Life program.

When worn, the suits affect human reactions the way impairment can, and provide a real-world feel to the wearer and a visual example to observers. One includes earmuffs and glasses that affect hearing and eyesight; bandages on neck, elbows and knee to slow reaction movements, and weights on wrists to affect balance. A second, called the "drugged driving suit," was developed in response to studies that 9.9 million people were reported to have driven under the influence of drugs. It added a device that caused the right hand to tremble and a right foot angle weight. In addition, the glasses added flashing lights, and the headphones play background music to confuse and distract.

Infrastructure Innovations

The Bridgeport U students' infrastructure-improvement proposals, judged by industry specialists, received Nissan-sponsored cash awards. The embodied technologies addressed known concerns for all drivers, not just teens. Most addressed commonly-encountered road conditions, but several were aimed at the vehicles themselves.

One clever innovation was a simple but possibly significant improvement to the highway center guard rail. The rail was curved, made of steel and aluminum with slats made of carbon fiber along the curve. The curved shape was designed both to absorb crash energy and deflect the car, causing it to come to a slow grinding stop.

One concept dealt with the "who goes next" at four-way stops. It uses solar energy panels for power and connects the stop signs. With sensing and logic circuitry based on which vehicle arrives first, the system sets the priorities. A green bar illuminates on a stop sign for go, a red bar signals a vehicle to remain stopped.

Also proposed was a yield control system for merges from two lanes into a single lane, where there is no clear view for drivers in both lanes, also with solar energy for power. A stanchion at the apex of the merge would hold the sensor system that monitors approaching traffic in both lanes. When it sees traffic in one line, it flashes a warning light to the other lane. If vehicles are approaching in both lanes, both warning lights flash.

Exhibited was a model for a traffic light with a built-in sensor system that when triggered would add extra time for a pedestrian crossing. The objective was to enable easier crossing for the handicapped and visually-impaired, who would carry either a special transmitter bracelet or a signal generator built into a hearing aid.

Road debris removal equipment for highway use was still another concept. It would sit on a highway shoulder and when activated, the operator would move it along the shoulder to the site, where he would deploy a road barrier bar to stop traffic. A scissors-type linkage system then would push the debris off the lane to clear it.

On-vehicle concepts

Several designs were devices proposed for integration with motor vehicles.

The simplest would address a wheel coming off a vehicle, which the school studies showed was a 1000 times a year occurrence. Each wheel would have one or more lugnuts with a built in light and transmitter. When lugnuts were properly tightened, the light would be off. If the lugnuts loosened, the light would go on, so perhaps another motorist would signal the driver. If the lugnut had built-in transmitter, it could signal the driver via Bluetooth.

A proposal that drew considerable attention provides a broad-daylight warning of an accident scene. Four-way hazard flashers are barely visible on a sunny day, so to provide a sharp contrast, the system would deploy a bright series of red LEDs from the dark underbody. They would be triggered automatically (with lights primarily to rear and sides) if the airbags were activated, or manually as with the hazard flashers.

Two designs used sensors in the steering wheel, so they could be wired to a vehicle interior warning system. Interestingly similar idea both have been proposed by industry engineers. One had a heart rate sensor to detect a cardiologic issue; the other an algorithm-dependent indicator of alcohol impairment. Another concept would add a heart-rate sensor to the shoulder harness.

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