The University Record, December 7, 1998

Sleepy truck drivers, among research topics at GLCTTR

By Nancy Ross-Flanigan
News and Information Services

Can a driver’s speech reveal whether he’s too tired to drive safely? Do truck drivers skip rest breaks because they can’t find parking spaces at public rest areas? How can a computer model accurately simulate traffic patterns? These are some of the questions that students tackled in year-long research projects sponsored by the Great Lakes Center for Truck and Transit Research (GLCTTR).

The GLCTTR is a consortium of six universities—including the U-M—in Michigan, Ohio and Illinois. The center’s Scholars Program was introduced in 1992 to support graduate students working with university researchers on truck- and transit-related problems. Its goals are to attract students and faculty to this type of research and to prepare graduate students for careers as transportation professionals.

The five students in the 1997–98 GLCTTR Scholars Program presented their research during a seminar at the Michigan League on Nov. 12. Here are highlights of their presentations.

Eugene J. Zalubus, a doctoral student in electrical engineering and computer science at the U-M, analyzed the speech of subjects who had gone at least 18 hours without sleep. For comparison, he did the same analysis on subjects who had been awake for less than 10 hours. He found that certain speech sounds are a better indication of fatigue than is reaction time, which sometimes is used to gauge how tired a person is. Zalubus hopes this work may lead to a device that automatically detects dangerous levels of fatigue. Placed in cars and trucks, the device would prompt the driver to say certain words every half hour or so and would sound an alarm if the driver became too tired to drive safely.

Kimberly A. Kolody, a Michigan State University (MSU) master’s student in civil engineering, analyzed truck space parking availability at public rest areas in Michigan. With help from Michigan State Police officers who recorded numbers of empty spaces at different times of day and night, Kolody identified overcrowded rest areas, mainly along the I-94 corridor. She then tried to pinpoint features—such as distance to nearest city, number and type of parking spaces, and average daily truck traffic—that led to overcrowding. Understanding such connections is important, Kolody says, because fatigued truck drivers may keep driving when they can’t find places to rest.

Jack M. Keoshian, Jr., a U-M doctoral student in mechanical engineering and applied mechanics, worked on TrafMod, a simple computer model that simulates traffic. Compared to more complicated traffic models, TrafMod takes less time to run and is easier to use, says Keoshian. The goal is to use such models in “intelligent transportation systems” to help drivers find the quickest routes to their destinations and to reduce congestion. They may also help planners predict future traffic on busy thoroughfares.

Laura Aylsworth-Bonzelet, a doctoral student in civil engineering at MSU, studied paved areas designed to give commercial vehicles more room to make left turns across narrow medians. These paved aprons, called “loons” in Michigan (because seen from the air, the outline resembles a loon), offer an alternative to left turns at busy intersections. However, there is no standard design—loons vary widely in size, pavement markings and signs, Aylsworth-Bonzelet found. In some cases, their design creates confusion that may lead to accidents. Acknowledging that loons are useful, Aylsworth-Bonzelet developed design guidelines that would make them safer.

Jennifer A. Kadlowec, a U-M doctoral student in mechanical engineering and applied mechanics, developed a method of testing bushings, cylindrical metal parts used in car and truck suspension systems. She subjected bushings to stresses that they typically would encounter in everyday use. Rather than look at just one type of stress at a time, as many previous analyses have, she studied combinations of stresses. Such studies can help researchers develop realistic models of automobile suspensions, Kadlowec says.

After presenting their results, the five GLCTTR Scholars received plaques recognizing their research contributions. In the six years since it began, the GLCTTR Scholars Program has supported student research at all four Michigan member universities—U-M, MSU, Michigan Technological University and Wayne State University. Student support funds provided by GLCTTR are matched by each participating university in the form of faculty research time and a significant portion of the Scholar’s tuition. In addition to the four Michigan Universities, GLCTTR members include Central State University (Ohio) and Northwestern University (Illinois).

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