A new driving simulator has been key for both training and research. It’s helping Charley’s Taxi drivers and has provided University of Hawaii researchers with significant data on distracted driving.

UH Professor Panos Prevedouros says this study is significant because they collected data from more than 200 professional drivers. That’s bigger than most samples of this type of research. The information also shows just how bad distracted driving can be. 

The study will be presented at the annual Transportation Research Board Conference in Washington D.C. next month. Prevedouros hopes the study will someday change or strengthen laws and policies on distracted driving.

The distracted driving test was broken into two phases. In phase one, participants drove normally. For 20 seconds out of the 10 minutes they were driving, they were doing it “blind.”  

“The vehicle is driving itself and you’re doing something different,” said Prevedouros, Chair of Civil and Environmental Engineering. “Blind is also blinking, sometimes scratching your nose, or natural behaviors.”

Phase two involves the drivers reading text messages. For ten minutes, drivers read 3 text messages, each message is about 2 1/2 lines long. Anytime you take your eyes off the road, the screen goes gray. Some drivers drove a total of 50 seconds blind. 

“When reading a text, you can do almost a full minute out of the 10 minutes you are actually not looking at the road which is dramatic,” said Prevedouros. 

The study also looked at drifting, how much a vehicle moves within a lane. Normally drivers would drift about a foot, but they read a text they’d drift as much as 4-feet.

“Even this simple act of going and reading something for 2-3 seconds can have terrible implications,” said Prevedouros. 

Charley’s Taxi’s simulator is being used in a variety of ways. President of the company Dale Evans says they’ve done a lot to lower the number of crashes but more needs to be done. 

“From our own statistics, I think that driving is becoming more unsafe. I think that driving in Hawaii is one of the worst in the U.S.,” said Evens. “What it’s (simulator) doing is that it’s making them aware of all the different types of dangers of driving.”