Walter (Wally) R. Boot is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology at Florida State University. He received his Ph.D. in Visual Cognition and Human Performance from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2007. His research interests are broad and include how humans perform and learn to master complex tasks (especially tasks with safety-critical consequences such as driving), how age influences perceptual and cognitive abilities vital to the performance of these tasks, and the potential of technological interventions to improve the well-being, independence, and cognitive functioning of older adults. He is one of six principal investigators of the National Institute on Aging supported Center for Research and Education on Aging and Technology Enhancement (CREATE; http://www.create-center.org/). His research has also been funded by the Florida Department of Transportation since 2011, and more recently by the Center for Accessibility and Safety for an Aging Population (ASAP), to conduct studies of aging road users; specifically examining countermeasures to protect older adults as they navigate roadways as drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians. Along with the CREATE team, he received the Jack A. Kraft Innovator Award from the Human Factors & Ergonomics Society in 2013, the American Psychological Association’s Prize for Interdisciplinary Team Research in 2016, and in 2014 Wally received the Springer Early Career Achievement Award in Research on Adult Development and Aging from Division 20 of the American Psychological Association.
Much of the work Wally has completed as part of the ASAP center has used driving simulators to understand the crash risk factors of drivers of all ages. In one project, younger and older drivers were asked to pass bicyclists with three feet of distance (as required by law). Drivers did this in the driving simulator, but also on a real road. The study found that drivers often underestimated their distance to cyclists, giving cyclists much more than three feet of space as they passed. These results suggest that when crashes do occur between motor vehicles and cyclists, it is unlikely due to drivers overestimating their passing distance. Driver behaviors inside and outside of the simulator were similar, providing converging evidence and validation for the use of simulators to understand motor vehicle and cyclist interactions.
Another study explored the causes of left turn crashes, a type of crash in which older adults are overrepresented. This project used a driving simulator to recreate an intersection in Tallahassee associated with crashes, and drivers were asked to judge when it was safe to make a left turn across opposing traffic. Although older drivers often chose safe gaps in traffic to make a turn, they were slower to make their decision compared to younger drivers. This increased processing time may put older drivers at greater risk compared to younger drivers, and supports the use of offset left turn lanes to provide drivers a clearer view of oncoming vehicles in advance of a turn, and protected-only left turn signals that simplify the decision-making process involved in making a left turn.
More recently, Wally was funded by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) and ASAP to investigate the best countermeasures to prevent wrong way crashes. These are crashes in which a vehicle enters a highway going the wrong way and crashes with a car heading in the correct direction. These crashes are rare, but are much more likely to be fatal compared to other types of crashes, and older drivers are overrepresented in wrong way crashes. Wrong way driving can result from a driver mistaking an exit ramp for an entrance ramp, making it vital that exit ramps are clearly marked. A series of simulator studies examined the benefits of enhanced countermeasures (more signs, larger signs, flashing signs, and arterial pavement markers), finding that additional countermeasures can reduce driver confusion regarding highway entry points, and may also be able to stop drivers who have made the error of entering an exit ramp.
These projects, and the results of other studies on vision, attention, aging, technology, and transportation have been published across a total 65 peer-reviewed publications, 11 book chapters, and 9 technical reports. Wally will be at the upcoming meeting of the Transportation Research Board to present some of the research he has conducted on preventing wrong way crashes. This project was selected by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) Research Advisory Committee (RAC) Value of Research Task Force as a “High Value Research” (HVR) project and an example of “Transportation Excellence through Research.”