Transportation Researchers Make a Difference

Teen girl in a car with the key.

Transportation researchers use the scientific method to solve problems and make improvements to all areas of transportation. For example, safety researchers might use police records to find out what percentage of crashes is caused by distracted driving. This evidence could then help lawmakers pass laws against activities like texting while driving.

Haley Johnson Bishop, doctoral student at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Click a button to watch an interview with Haley Johnson Bishop:

The possibilities for research in transportation are practically limitless. There will always be questions that need to be answered, problems that need to be studied, and innovations waiting to be discovered. That’s what makes being a transportation researcher both exciting and intellectually rewarding.

Haley Johnson Bishop never imagined that her research on Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) would lead her to the field of transportation. But it turns out that, through her research, she can help people with ASD overcome transportation-related challenges.

Haley’s research focuses on the unique challenges driving presents to teens and adults who have ASD.

“More and more people are being diagnosed with autism. This means there are more and more kids approaching driving age in the autism population,” Haley said in an interview with Fast Forward. “There’s not a whole lot of research out there right now talking about the challenges and barriers that they might face as they approach the task of driving.”

Haley said she and her colleagues at the University of Alabama at Birmingham are using a high-tech driving simulator to determine if some parts of driving are more challenging for people with ASD. By identifying these challenges, Haley explained that researchers can then design interventions to help people overcome them.

“We’re having [teens and adults diagnosed with ASD] come drive in our simulator, and looking at the parts of the drive that are the most challenging for them. Is it steering the vehicle? Is it maintaining lane position? Is it encountering hazardous situations, like a pedestrian that walks out in front of the vehicle, or a car that might pull out in front of them? … When we do that, we may be able to design interventions that would help those specific skills and improve their driving overall. Improving safety. That’s our overall goal.”

Haley received a grant from the Dwight David Eisenhower Transportation Fellowship Program to conduct her research. The Fellowship is given to the best and brightest young minds in transportation today. She explained to Fast Forward that no matter what today’s middle and high school students are interested in, there’s probably an area of transportation research where they could thrive and positively impact people’s lives.

“That’s one of the really exciting things about transportation,” she said. “You can be from a totally different area and contribute so much to different fields. A lot of people would say psychology doesn’t really apply to transportation. But you’ve got to think—there are cars and roadways, but there are also people inside of those cars driving.”

Check out Haley’s video to hear more clips from her interview, and make sure to keep following Fast Forward for news and information on rewarding and exciting careers in transportation!

Aaron Mack
Fast Forward: Volume 3 Issue 5 – Safety