The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently published a report to the U.S. Congress proposing actions that the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) should take to enhance the safety outcomes of driver-assistance technologies. In that report the GAO references two publications by the research team of Assistant Professor Anuj Pradhan of the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering (MIE) Department as contributions to the GAO’s recommendations. See

For the past few years, Pradhan and his graduate students and other collaborators have  conducted research studying the impact of advanced vehicle technologies on transportation-safety topics. Some of the outcomes of this federal-, state-, and industry-funded research have been a journal paper led by MIE Ph.D. student Apoorva Hungund and co-authored by recently graduated MIE Alumnus Dr. Ganesh Pai and a published report to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) written by Pradhan’s team, including Hungund. 

Now the GAO has cited these two publications in its report, the purposes of which are to boost the safety of driver-assistance technologies, to help reduce crashes and fatalities, and to assist in the purchasing decisions of consumers throughout the U.S. 

As Pradhan explains, “The GAO report relies on a rich and robust body of knowledge generated in the past few years by scientists and institutes dedicated to understanding the impact of vehicle technologies. It is therefore heartening to see the inclusion of the UMass work, as it provides important bases for the GAO report and recommendations.”

Pradhan adds that “This is a wonderful and tangible example of how the research that we publish can have an impact on shaping policy at higher levels. Also, it is a rare privilege to actually see this important impact of published research from junior and student scientists and serves as a reminder to students and researchers that the knowledge that they generate is not lost into the ether.” 

In its report to Congress, the GAO cites a selective set of influential academic publications. One of them is an April 2021 paper, titled “Systematic Review of Research on Driver Distraction in the Context of Advanced Driver Assistance Systems,” published by Pradhan’s team in the Transportation Research Record Journal of the Transportation Research Board. 

As that paper explains, “Advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) promise improved driving performance and safety. With ADAS taking on more vehicle-control tasks, the driver’s role may be reduced to that of passive supervision. This in turn may increase drivers’ engagement in non-driving-related tasks, thereby potentially reducing any promised safety benefit.” 

In response to this serious safety issue, as the Transportation Research Record Journal paper says, “We conducted a systematic review…to study the relationship between ADAS use and driver distraction. Four research questions were addressed. Two questions examined the effect of ADAS on secondary-task engagement and the quality of secondary-task performance, and two addressed the effects of ADAS on driver attention and on driver-behavior changes caused by secondary-task engagement.”

The GAO report to Congress also referenced the Pradhan Research Group’s report to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT), titled “Advanced Driver Assistance Systems on Road Safety and Implications for Education, Licensing, Registration, and Enforcement.”

As the Pradhan team states in its MassDOT report, “ADAS are rapidly being developed and deployed, with an increasing number of new passenger vehicles equipped with advanced ADAS. These systems promise to improve safety by assisting drivers. However, there exists a critical gap in our understanding of the potential impacts associated with driver over-reliance and disengagement in vehicles equipped with ADAS.” 

According to Pradhan and his team, “To address these issues, this research was undertaken with three broad objectives. The first was to understand the current state of commercially available ADAS. The second was to understand driver knowledge about ADAS technologies and functionalities using a survey study. Lastly, this research involved the development and evaluation of approaches to improve drivers’ understanding of ADAS functionalities and the role and responsibilities of the driver. This [last research] included an experimental driving-simulator study to examine the impact of training on drivers’ mental models.” 

As Pradhan wrote to his students who participated in the research cited by the GAO, “This report and the GAO recommendations have a tangible impact on policy, and I think you should be proud that your hard work and research outcomes are contributing to this real-world impact. The hours and months and years of your effort do count. Well done!” 

Pradhan describes the purpose of the Pradhan Research Group (Personal Academic Website) this way: “We are interested in the etiology of injuries and fatalities due to motor-vehicle crashes from a human-factors and behavioral standpoint. This group's research goal is to uncover and disseminate evidence that can contribute to the safe mobility of road users, that can inform policy, and that can lead to technological and educational innovations for improving the road-safety record.” (May 2024)

Article posted in Research