MIT AgeLab Needs Your Help In Its Driver Distraction Studies

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The MIT AgeLab has a critical need for subjects to participate in its studies on driver distractions. Here’s how to become a part of the program:

MITs AgeLab monitors real, human subjects in real-world driving situations to learn how even minor changes in automotive technology and design can have an impact on driving safety. Since it was founded in 1999, the MIT AgeLab — which is part of the Center for Transportation and Logistics at MIT — has studied how humans of all ages interact with in-vehicle user-interfaces and other safety technologies. For example, since 2010, MIT AgeLab has studied how something as simple as typeface legibility can reduce reaction time when presenting drivers with information.

As mobile phone use becomes nearly universal, and additional distractions find their way into our cars, the numbers of people injured and killed in accidents caused by driver distractions get worse every year.  According to NHTSA, approximately 660,000 drivers are using cell phones while driving, just during daylight hours. And it’s misleading to think that this is just about mobile phones. Anything that takes your attention from hurtling down the highway at 75 miles per hour is potentially life-threatening. “Anything that takes your attention away from driving can be a distraction,” according to NHTSA. “Sending a text message, talking on a cell phone, using a navigation system, and eating while driving are a few examples of distracted driving. Any of these distractions can endanger the driver and others.”

Whether the solution comes from the government, the automotive industry, the insurance industry or academia, something has to be done. That’s where you come in.

What MIT AgeLab needs is human subjects of all age groups and genders to participate in driving studies to monitor how we actually act when we’re behind the wheel. Are we using these technologies to their fullest extent? Or are we tuning them out — or worse, turning them off — when they become distractions themselves? The only way to find out is to put real people behind the wheel and watch.

To do so, technicians prepare cars with variety of sensors, as well as small cameras which record the road, the car’s instrument cluster, and the driver’s face, hands and body positioning. Then the subjects simply drive the cars in and around the local area. The sensors and cameras are designed specifically to blend into the vehicle’s cockpit, and after a short period of time, drivers forget they’re even there. The drivers quickly slip into their natural driving habits. Using advanced computer-vision software, researchers can quantify their actions, and monitor when they as well as when they eat, drink coffee, take calls, text friends and relatives, have conversations, and perform other actions behind the wheel.

“The driving research group at the MIT AgeLab uses a driving simulator, field testing, and loaning out research vehicles to develop an understanding of how drivers respond to the increasing complexity of new vehicles,” says MIT AgeLab Research Scientist Bryan Reimer. “The AgeLab seeks to find solutions to driver attention management and distraction through the development of automation and the use of advanced driver safety systems.”

Right now, you can be a part of the program at the world’s most recognized technical universities. There’s a critical need for subjects, especially as the pace of early autonomous technology grows faster. “AgeLab volunteers have the opportunity to participate in a variety of paid research studies ranging from short in-office visits targeted at visual perception to driving the AgeLab driving simulator, as well as longer multi-visit studies aimed at understanding real world driving through the use of instrumented vehicles,” says Reimer. “Once volunteers sign up to be a part of the AgeLab Database, they will be contacted for studies for which they may qualify.  Volunteers can also choose to receive updates on the research that they are a part of by subscribing to the AgeLab Newsletter.”

By actively driving in simulators and being monitored in real vehicles, in real-world driving situations, you can help researchers understand just how the rapid pace of technology is affecting the way we drive.

To learn more about MIT AgeLab’s studies and register to become a subject, visit the MIT AgeLab Volunteer Study Form.


Craig Fitzgerald

Craig Fitzgerald

Writer, editor, lousy guitar player, dad. Content Marketing and Publication Manager at