Distracted driving has become a hot topic of conversation, debate and policy making these days. Cell phones are a major target, but distractions are anything that takes your mind and attention away from your main task, driving in this case. We quote a lot of facts and statistics about distracted driving and if you were to trace those stats back, you’d find a team of experts who spent months on the research to provide them. Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) and Teens in the Driver Seat® is lucky to have one of those experts on staff.
Meet Joel Cooper, an Assistant Research Scientist with TTI. Joel was kind enough to turn his attention away from his research and focus on answering a few questions for us.
Q: What and where did you study?
I have a Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology that I received from the University of Utah, where I studied under Dr. David Strayer. We worked on issues of cognitive distraction while driving and completed a variety of studies looking at many angles of driver distraction.
Q: What do you like most about your research?
I really enjoy being involved in research that has a direct and almost immediate impact on the public debate surrounding issues of driver distraction. I got my degree in a lab that had news crews visiting 2-3 times per semester, and sometimes many at the same time. I also really like coming up with new and creative solutions to vexing problems. I am in a profession that is constantly dealing with cutting edge technology that we may or may not actually have access to. This means that in order to study the technology we have to get creative, often using a variety of software and hardware solutions along with a liberal amount of Duct Tape (trying to cut back on that one actually).
Q: What are you currently working on?
I can’t say, it’s classified…no, not really. Most of my projects are federally funded in one way or another. A major source of our current funding is from NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), where we are looking at distraction potential from next generation vehicle to vehicle communications. For these projects we have teamed with a brilliant retired GM scientist, a leader at the Iowa Center for Public Policy, a project administration group from Maryland, and contract officers from Washington, DC. It’s a big fun project to be involved in.
Q: Have you found anything that has completely surprised you?
I heard that it was supposed to rain in Texas. Apparently this was not true because I haven’t seen more than a storm or two since I moved here nine months ago.
Joel will also lead the research on one of the first test track studies conducted on texting while driving — this one for the Southwest Region University Transportation Center.
Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) provides the science, guidance and project resources for Teens in the Driver Seat®.