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Zhenhua Chen Receives ODOT Grant for Distracted Driving Study

Assistant Professor of City and Regional Planning Dr. Zhenhua Chen has received an Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) research grant of $174,908 to study the impact of distracted driving on the severity and frequency of vehicle crashes in the United States. In particular, Chen will investigate the different roles that legislation, driver education, and the built environment played in vehicle crashes by distracted driving.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), around 9 percent of reported fatal crashes were due to a driving distraction, which represents 3,166 people killed in distracted driving related crashes (NHTSA, 2019). Fourteen percent of these crashes were found to be associated with a cellphone use.

“This issue is of both local and national interest,” commented Chen. “Essentially, the purpose of our work is to make a difference on policy making: how can we improve our investment strategies, how can we allocate resources effectively, how can improve our road environment and reduce the risk of this kind of accident.”

While a number of studies have attempted to assess the risk of distracted driving behaviors, drawing linkages between urban planning and distracted driving related crashes remain limited. Chen views his work as a scientific analysis of national data—from 2013 to 2017—that will aid ODOT in implementing transportation policies that optimize enforcement of safe driving laws and improve infrastructure design.

“In the first phase of analysis we found two interesting results,” stated Chen of the yearlong study. “First, the severity of distracted driving is very high in work zone areas, and second, round-abouts have a very effective role in reducing severities by distracted driving.”

In addition to assessing the impact of the built environment on distracted driving, Chen will review existing drivers’ education curriculums in the U.S., and provide a comparative analysis of drivers’ education related to distract driving. The third component of Chen’s research will be an analysis of distracted driving laws from different U.S. States with a focus on cellphone and text messaging bans as well as monetary penalties, and whether or not these policy initiatives were effective in reducing the number of fatalities caused by distracted driving, which further contributes to improving roadway safety.

Dr. Chen, the principal investigator for the project, whose research focuses in infrastructure planning and policy, risk and resiliency, and big data, has teamed with Phil Renaud, Executive Director of The Risk Institute at The Ohio State University Fisher College of Business for research support. The research team also includes City and Regional Planning PhD candidates Youngbin Lym and Seunghoon Kim, PhD student Junmei Cheng, and city and regional planning graduate student Yuxuan Wang.

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