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Arbella Donates Distractology Trailer to MIE Dept.

A young man sitting in the Distractology simulator, looking at his phone

The Arbella Insurance Foundation has announced the end of its 11-year-old Distractology program and has donated the Distractology trailer and its simulator, developed by College of Engineering researchers, to UMass Amherst, where it will be housed on campus for further opportunities to provide research, outreach, and education. Arbella will continue to fund these efforts for the next three years. During its 11-year run, the trailer traveled to 165 different high schools, three colleges and universities, and 26 other locations while training many thousands of drivers across New England to practice undistracted driving.

The Distractology simulator was one of the first efforts in the country to use simulated driving scenarios to educate young drivers about the dangers of driving while distracted. The program featured a mobile classroom outfitted with two high-tech driving simulators designed to give new drivers the chance to experience the perils of distracted driving. Arbella worked in tandem with researchers at UMass Amherst and Jack Morton Worldwide to develop the simulators.

According to Professor Sundar Krishnamurty, head of the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering (MIE) Department, “The Distractology simulator was developed under the leadership of Emeritus Professor Donald Fisher, the retired department head of MIE, in our Arbella Insurance Group Charitable Foundation Human Performance Laboratory. It was designed to demonstrate the high-risk of distracted driving in young drivers, and it has been even more impactful that we imagined by educating over 10,000 new drivers.”

In addition to the lasting impact the Distractology trailer had on driving safety in New England, it was also featured prominently in media reports from the Washington Post, Boston Globe, Today Show, and hundreds of other newspapers, television stations, and websites.

The Distractology simulations were based on real-world examples, including having student participants text, post to social media sites, or change the radio while navigating residential and highway conditions.

“Over ten years ago, when we first started seeing the impact of distracted driving among teens, we were excited for the opportunity to partner with the Arbella Insurance Foundation on Distractology,” said Krishnamurty. “Now, we are grateful to have the opportunity to bring the Distractology trailer back to the UMass Amherst campus as we continue our teen driver research. This donation will serve as an important research tool in our efforts to understand distracted driving habits and to find ways to curb those habits.”

Krishnamurty added that “The two faculty members who will use the Distractology program now are Shannon Roberts, who is focused on studying human factors in transportation safety, and Anuj K. Pradhan, who is interested in injuries and fatalities due to motor vehicle crashes from a human factors and behavioral standpoint.” (February 2021)