UW-Madison: Industrial engineering professor provides national expertise on the driver distraction threat

University of Wisconsin-Madison industrial and systems engineering professor John Lee spoke about the dangers of distracted driving at a Washington, D.C., meeting on the topic held Sept. 30 and Oct. 1. The meeting included representatives from the Obama administration, U.S. Senate and automotive industry, among others, and was a chance for Lee to discuss his area of expertise: technology-mediated attention.

Lee joined the UW-Madison faculty in June from the University of Iowa. His initial work at UW-Madison will focus on reducing driver distraction. Technologies such as eye tracking and sensor arrays are already available in some high-end vehicles and are likely to become more widespread, and Lee is developing algorithms that could interpret data from these technologies and determine if a driver is distracted or attentive to the road.

Lee is developing similar technology to diagnose a driver as alcohol-impaired. The diagnosis is based on an array of sensors calculating steering wheel movements, lane positions and where the driver is looking. In response to the diagnosis, a car could limit speed, alert the driver to their level of impairment, or even turn off altogether. The technology could be especially helpful for Wisconsin, which has consistently high levels of drunk driving and alcohol-related fatalities.

Lee also will collaborate with several industrial and systems engineering faculty who focus on health systems to understand how technology mediates attention in remote patient monitoring. He is an affiliate in the civil and environmental engineering department, where he will collaborate with associate professor David Noyce to study traffic-control devices and their effect on driving behavior. They will use a new driving simulator that will be housed in the Mechanical Engineering Building.

“The main message of my research is that driving in general provides you with poor feedback about whether you’re driving safely or not, and without good feedback we overestimate our abilities,” Lee says. “I’m hoping some of the technology that is becoming available will allow us to provide people with better feedback so people can change their behaviors and be safer.”

CONTACT: John Lee, 608-890-3168, jdlee@engr.wisc.edu