For the second time in a few months, Assistant Professor Shannon Roberts of the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering (MIE) Department was asked to serve as an expert on driving for WalletHub, a website that deals with many issues related to financial advice. In September, Roberts gave sensible advice about teenage drivers. Meanwhile, on the January 16 WalletHub website, she offered many knowledgeable suggestions about saving money and saving lives while driving.

The Roberts Research Group is focused on studying human factors in transportation safety and understanding how drivers interact with technology and infrastructure to guide the design of driver-vehicle interactions. Much of her research is conducted at the UMass Amherst Human Performance Laboratory.

The January 16 posting on WalletHub dealt with “2023’s Best & Worst States to Drive in.” To identify the states with the most positive driving experiences, WalletHub compared all 50 states across 31 key indicators of a positive commute. The data set ranges from average gas prices to rush-hour traffic congestion to road quality.

In conjunction with that article, Roberts was one of the professional experts recruited by WalletHub to answer a group of related questions. Among other subjects covered, WalletHub asked, “What tips do you have for a person looking to keep the costs of car ownership low?”

As Roberts responded, “Outside of the vehicle purchase price, costs associated with vehicle ownership are periodic and recurring, e.g., insurance, maintenance, and fuel. Insurance costs can be kept at a minimum through a variety of approaches. First, insurance costs are lower for newer vehicles that have advanced safety technologies. Also, insurance costs are low if annual vehicle mileage is low and if the vehicle stays in a garage. Last, most insurance carriers have devices that can be installed in your vehicle that record driving behavior; if you exhibit safe driving behaviors (e.g., do not speed, have few near crashes, etc.), your insurance premiums will be lowered.”

According to Roberts, “In terms of maintenance costs, some vehicle manufacturers offer prepaid maintenance plans that are less expensive than paying for maintenance-as-you-go. Last, fuel costs can be kept at a minimum by purchasing fuel-efficient vehicles and by driving consistently and reliably.”

Next WalletHub wanted to know when self-driving cars would become available. “There are levels to driving automation systems,” replied Roberts. “Right now, 50 percent of new vehicles have advanced technology known as Level 2, i.e., adaptive cruise-control plus a lane-centering system.”

Roberts added that “Fully self-driving vehicles, where the technology is completely responsible for driving, and the drivers are free to do as they please - referred to as level 4 or 5 vehicles - are decades away. In order for us to get to that point, many things have to change, from infrastructure to legal considerations (e.g., determining fault for crashes) to driver perceptions of artificial intelligence.”

Finally, in answer to WalletHub’s question about reducing the number of traffic fatalities, Roberts explained that “The biggest risk for all drivers continues to be not wearing a seat belt or being under the influence while driving. Whatever states can do to encourage seat belt usage and discourage driving after drinking/drug usage would help prevent traffic fatalities.”

(February 2023)

Article posted in Faculty