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University Of Maryland Researcher Launches Website To Report Crashes And Near-Misses

In an effort to improve traffic safety, a University of Maryland School of Medicine researcher is urging drivers around the country to report the circumstances of their accidents and near-misses to a special web site -- Following an accident or near-miss, participants complete a confidential online questionnaire designed to identify the "human factors" that carry the greatest risk. Over 90% of accidents are at least in part caused by driver error.

From cell phone use to eating behind the wheel, the study focuses on a wide range of behaviors and potential distractions that can affect driving performance. For example, drivers are asked how they were feeling physically and emotionally at the time of the accident or near-miss. Were they alert or sleepy? Were they sick that day? Were they distracted by an argument or engaged in a conversation? Drivers must complete the multiple-choice questionnaire within 30 days of the accident or near-miss.

"We want to know as much as possible about what was happening in the critical few seconds just before a crash or near-miss," says Jeffrey Hadley Ph.D., of the National Study Center for Trauma and Emergency Medical Systems. "By contrasting the information associated with these two types of incidents, the study will provide a new understanding of the human factors that are most important to avoiding an imminent collision," adds Dr. Hadley.

The study is the first to seek the specific circumstances surrounding a large number of near-misses. It has been estimated that the typical motorist experiences a hazardous driving situation every two hours on the road, and is close to an accident about once a month. In fact, thousands of crashes are narrowly averted each day on our nation's roads, information about which we have little (if any) knowledge.

The thorough online questionnaire gathers specific information that is typically not found in police reports. For example, if the driver was using a cell phone, was the driver picking up the phone, dialing, or talking? One question that will be answered by the study is whether there is any difference in risk between talking to a passenger and talking on a cell phone. Because participation is anonymous, study members will be more likely to report information they may not have been willing to admit to police.

The results of the study will be made available to the public, traffic safety experts, legislators and other policy makers. Dr. Hadley hopes the data will be used to help educate the public, and ultimately save lives. "We are looking for drivers who are motivated by a sense of civic responsibility," says Dr. Hadley. "Each person's contribution will help improve traffic safety in the long run."

Drivers are encouraged to enroll in the study even if they have not had an accident or near-miss in the previous 30 days (which are eligible). They will then be ready to report any future accidents or near-misses. Dr. Hadley says the study will run for an indefinite period of time and will be adapted to address other traffic safety issues as they arise.