Designing a Safer Car

Matt Smith, '00 Ph.D. Human Factors/Industrial-Organizational Psychology

photo of matt smithMatt Smith is making driving safer by applying psychology to his duties with Delphi Corporation.

A senior human factors scientist at the Delphi Electronics and Safety Division in Kokomo, Indiana, he directs the driver simulation research program. The goal is to find ways to avoid collisions.

“The majority of my work centers around a forward collision warning system that uses radar technology to alert drivers that a potential crash is about to occur unless they respond in the next few moments,” he said.

Smith, with a master’s and doctorate in human factors psychology from Wright State, directs experiments on how people respond to potential collision scenarios. “We study how much time drivers take to react to stimuli and what are the best ways to attract the driver’s attention. We then determine what combinations of visual and auditory stimuli are the best ways to achieve this. The big challenge is interrupting the driver’s distraction without annoying him or her.”

Smith, who was hired by Delphi six years ago, works with specially designed vehicles to test the latest advances. “We try to make cars more user friendly and safer by designing systems that best account for the abilities of the driver,” he explained. He works on systems designed to detect driver drowsiness or distraction, potential lane departures, and frontal collision scenarios.

Smith, who came to Wright State from New Zealand because of the human factors work of Psychology Department Chair John Flach, believes the automobile industry has made cars about as safe as possible in a crash because of advances like seat belts and air bags. “In terms of crash worthiness, we can’t do much more. The next frontier is doing more to reduce collisions from occurring.”