August 8, 2002

GM partners with medical school to study driver distraction

Detroit, Michigan – General Motors announced a major research partnership that ultimately could identify a physiological basis for driver distraction.

GM and the Brain Imaging Research Division of the Wayne State University (WSU) School of Medicine have begun several programs in the transportation Imaging Division of the newly established Brain and Behavior Institute in Detroit.

The programs will expand on the current joint effort to use real-time magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), a safe and passive brain imaging method, along with human performance data, virtual reality simulation and safety advances in transportation communications and telematics, to better understand driver performance and potential distractions by actually watching how the brain processes tasks.

“This research will help us understand how drivers manage distractions and interact with vehicle telematics,” said Christopher C. Green, M.D., Ph.D., executive director of emerging issues in the GM Public Policy Center. “Additionally, the research can help form the basis for developing future in-vehicle telematics technology, driver training aids and other safety advances.”

“The initial experiments will use functional magnetic resonance imaging during driver simulations that are real-world,” said Gregory J. Moore, Ph.D., who is co-directing the GM-WSU medical school research. “The imaging technique shows the actual portions of the brain while they are being used in processing sensory information during driving tasks. That information allows researchers to see if multiple sources of sensory information are being processed and, if so, how efficiently.”

Researchers also want to determine how other external factors, such as sleep deprivation; the use of caffeine, alcohol and over-the-counter medications; and even overall physical health impact a driver’s brain’s ability to process multiple tasks and interact with technology inside the vehicle, said Thomas W. Uhde, M.D., director of WSU’s Brain and Behavior Institute and the medical school’s assistant dean for neurosciences.

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