Members from throughout The Ohio State University recently — and literally — opened their doors to representatives from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office to showcase how key partnerships, critical research and leading-edge technology are making roadways safer.

Academic leaders met with James Burke, director of advance training for the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, Mary Davis, executive director of the Ohio Peace Officer Training Commission, and Stephen Schumaker, deputy attorney general for law enforcement, and provided them with a tour of Ohio State’s Driving Simulation Laboratory as part of an effort to raise awareness of the university’s efforts to address the growing problem of distracted driving.

Led by The Risk Institute at Fisher College of Business, the Distracted Driving Initiative has brought together 26 companies, government entities and researchers to combine leading research with industry expertise to predict and curb distracted driving behaviors.

The number of fatal traffic accidents rose 7.2 percent nationally in 2015 according to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration — the greatest year-over-year increase since 1966. Distracted driving was a factor in about 10 percent of auto deaths, though the exact percentage is difficult to determine due to privacy rules and other factors.

“Distracted driving is something that has the potential to affect all of us,” said Phil Renaud, executive director of The Risk Institute. “By that same token, the solutions for eliminating this problem won’t come from just one industry or area of expertise. It’s going to take thought leaders, experts and professionals from multiple disciplines to find ways to stem this growing problem. That spirit of collaboration is at the heart of this very important initiative.”

The two-year initiative identified a three-tiered approach to combating distracted driving: research, legislation and technology. Under that framework, The Risk Institute has partnered with industry, governmental agencies and with thought leaders from throughout Ohio State, including scholars from behavioral science, engineering, risk and automotive research.

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Representatives from the Ohio Attorney General's Office received hands-on experience at the Ohio State Driving Simulation Laboratory.

Throughout the tour of the Driving Simulation Laboratory, Jan Weisenberger, senior associate vice president for research at Ohio State and director of simulation lab, highlighted the vehicle research being conducted in partnership with Honda R&D Americas, the Honda-Ohio State Partnership Program and the Ohio Board of Regents. In addition to the ability to simulate and test distracted driving scenarios, the facility assists Honda in evaluating in-vehicle systems for infotainment and vehicle guidance.

“We are incredibly fortunate and grateful to have the partnerships and facilities that allow us to conduct critical tests and simulations into distracted driving accurately and safely,” Renaud said. “Together with our partners, we look forward to leading the way in making Ohio’s roadways safer for everyone.”

Among the industry partners associated with the Distracted Driving Initiative are Honda Inc., Aon Benfield, Nationwide, NiSource, Ford, Motorists Insurance, DHL, State Auto, Freer Logic, Ohio Mutual Insurance, Gallagher Bassett, TrueNorth and others. Representing the legal and governmental branches are the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and the Ohio Department of Public Safety. Ohio-based Root Insurance, Smart Drive, Greenroad, MessageLead and eDriving Fleet make up the technology voices in the conversation, while a dozen researchers and thought leaders from throughout Ohio State make up the research arm of the initiative.

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The Ohio State Driving Simulator Laboratory was created with funding from Honda R&D Americas, The Ohio State University, the Honda-OSU Partnership Program, and the Ohio Board of Regents.