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Potential graduate research topics

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Thank you for your interest in studying with MUARC. While applicants are more than welcome to suggest their own research topics, we have also consulted our team of supervisors for some ideas that you may nominate as part of your application.

Aggression, confidence and driving behaviour

Driver aggression is increasing on Australian roads. While previous research has examined causes for aggression, there is a need to understand the phenomena more broadly. Further, to understand the long term influences of aggressive experiences on driving confidence and style. This is an important area of research, given the perceived prevalence of aggression on Australia’s roads. This project would explore the prevalence of aggression on Australian roads and specifically examine the consequences of this across a range of drivers, including more vulnerable road user groups. The project would include survey and simulation methodology to collect data on personality factors, attitudes and driving behaviour.

This thesis would be supervised by Dr Sjaan Koppel and Dr Amanda Stephens


Fleet safety in the emergency services

The emergency services play an integral role in public health and safety. These organisations are responsible for responding to a wide range of emergencies, and many agencies also engage in community awareness and prevention programs. The operation of a motor vehicle is a key activity in the job role tasks of emergency service staff.  Given the specific demands of driving during emergency situations, these drivers are likely to experience a greater level of risk associated with their driving. In fact, research has identified that emergency service workers are at high risk of serious injury and/or death following a crash. Contributing factors include the size and weight of the vehicles involved, and speed during emergency response. Given the importance of the emergency services, it is important to ensure the safety of staff and volunteers, and thus it is important to understand the factors influencing risk. This project will take a systems thinking perspective to explore the safety of drivers in emergency vehicle fleets.

This thesis would be supervised by Dr Carlyn Muir, Dr Sharon Newnam & Assoc Prof Stuart Newstead


Occupational safety in the emergency services

The nature of Police and Emergency Service work means that first responders are regularly exposed to potentially traumatic events, putting them at risk of physical injury and may impact their mental health.  This type of work is subject to a combination of stressors, including: shift work; long working hours; repeated exposure to death, trauma and/or violence; difficult interactions with members of the public; high expectations of the profession; high levels of governance; strong cultural pressures; and stigmatising attitudes towards mental health and suicide. Most research on emergency service worker injury has focused on specific injury types or occupational hazards (such as stress, or arrest and restrain in police), and thus there is limited information describing the broader patterns of injuries (and associated costs). This broader understanding is important given that long-term health morbidity and mortality rates in emergency service occupations (such as police) exceed other occupations and the general population. A clear understanding of the nature and characteristics of injuries is important to assist in the development of more effective prevention approaches. This project aims to better understand the nature, characteristics and costs of emergency service worker injuries and near misses.

This thesis would be supervised by Dr Carlyn Muir and Assoc Prof Stuart Newstead


Interface Design and Evaluation for New Technologies in Vehicles

With the widespread introduction of new technologies and automation into vehicles it is important that such systems are ergonomically designed. Poorly designed systems can lead to user frustration, errors and can even contribute to road crashes. The proposed research area would use MUARC's simulators and human factors expertise to develop and evaluate new Human Machine Interfaces (HMI) for road vehicles. It would build on best practice HMI guidelines developed by MUARC and elsewhere and would involve identifying emerging vehicle technology and automation developments and HMI design requirements, and developing and evaluating an optimally designed HMI for future vehicles.

This thesis would be supervised by Prof Tim Horberry and Dr Kristie Young.


The safety implications of older drivers and advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS)

In Australia, as in most developed countries around the world, the population is ageing and will continue to do so. Keeping older people mobile is very important for personal well-being, social connectedness and overall quality of life. Advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) are becoming increasingly common in modern vehicles and help drivers by providing warnings or intervening in potentially unsafe situations. However, little is known about how well current and proposed ADAS might be designed and used to compensate for the ageing process and prolong safe mobility for older drivers. This multidisciplinary safety-focused project could involve the analysis or design of the Human Machine Interface (HMI), investigation into older people's attitudes and acceptance of ADAS, the development of new or enhanced ADAS specifically for the benefit of older drivers or another related area to suit the student's expertise and interests.

This thesis would be supervised by Dr David Logan, Dr Sjaan Koppel and Dr Kristie Young


Pedestrian Exposure Data Study (PEDS)

Walking is promoted as means of transport to promote health and environmental sustainability, yet research into risk factors for crashes involving vulnerable road users in urban areas is severely hampered without access to accurate exposure data. As such, it is vitally important for governments to invest in the systematic collection of exposure data for vulnerable road users. The aim of the project is to investigate methods to systematically collect consistent pedestrian exposure data. Currently pedestrian data is not consistently collected and there are limited measures of pedestrian exposure. A validated measure of pedestrian exposure that could be used in evaluations of road safety treatments would be invaluable. The method could also have broader applications in other fields including urban planning, transportation planning and public health. The project would investigate the use of “Big Data” and the “Internet of Things” to gather pedestrian exposure data. The ultimate goal would be to find data that would enable us to measure down to the level of road crossings, as this is the highest risk activity for pedestrians.

This thesis would be supervised by Assoc Prof Stuart Newstead, Dr Karen Stephan and Dr Steve O’Hern.


The influence of the design of the road and roadside environment on road user behaviour

The road system comprises road users, the vehicles they operate, and the roads and roadsides they operate within. Making the system safer requires a detailed understanding of how road users interact with each other and their environment. There are many studies of driver behaviour (behavioural science/traffic psychology/human factors) and many studies of the characteristics of the road and roadside that increase the risk of a crash occurring (engineering/statistics), yet there are surprisingly few studies that rigorously investigate how the road and surrounding environment shape driver behaviour, and influence safety. There are even fewer studies of how the environment shapes the behaviour of other road users, e.g. cyclists and pedestrians. This project will investigate the influence of the design of the road and roadside on road user behaviour (e.g. drivers, cyclists) using methods for measuring human behaviour (e.g. driving simulation, observational studies, etc.).

This thesis would be supervised by Dr Karen Stephan and Dr Steve O’Hern.


Examining the physical and psychological antecedents of distracted driving

Distracted driving is now widely recognised as a serious threat to road safety. Research has found that distracted driving is the main contributing factor in almost 16% of serious casualty road crashes resulting in hospital attendance in Australia (Beanland, Fitzharris, Young & Lenné, 2013). This PhD project will use data from the Australian Naturalistic Driving Study (ANDS) to examine the physical and psychological antecedents of distracted driving and its consequences. Specifically, the project will determine whether a range of physical and psychological factors (e.g. visual, perceptual, and cognitive capabilities, sensation seeking, strength tests) influence drivers’ willingness to engage in distracting tasks while driving and also how these factors might moderate the impact of distraction on driving performance once engaged. The project will make use of the ANDS driving, video, and physical and psychological assessment data. The ANDS was an ARC Linkage project involving almost 380 drivers from Victoria and New South Wales that aimed to understand what people do when driving their cars in everyday and safety-critical situations. Data from this study offers an exciting and unique opportunity to examine driver engagement in distracted driving under real-world driving conditions.

This thesis would be supervised by Dr Kristie Young and Dr Sjaan Koppel.


Identifying factors associated with prolonged recovery and return to work following musculoskeletal injury

The extent of physical incapacitation, pain and general disability that individuals endure post-motor vehicle or work-related injury varies tremendously. The unpredictable duration and nature of recovery from physical (e.g. musculoskeletal) injury challenges compensation system goals around facilitating recovery and return to work (RTW). Some with moderately severe injuries return reasonably quickly, while others with seemingly more minor injuries show a protracted recovery period. Evidence suggests that recovery and RTW for those who have been on compensation for over 6-12 months is even more complex and difficult. If we are to develop more individualised, targeted rehabilitation programs and interventions that have a greater chance of facilitating recovery, we first need toidentify the factors associated with prolonged recovery and work absence, and then work with those that are amenable to change. This project has several components on offer for interested students, all of which are open for discussion. An example is to retrospectively contrast baseline and follow-up data elicited by a purpose designed assessment tool for a group of individuals who RTW within 6 months of injury, and a group who take longer than 12 months. The project could also include an evaluation of a novel, innovative occupational rehabilitation health coaching program undertaken by different cohorts including those with work-related musculoskeletal injuries, cancer survivors, and/or individuals exposed to trauma.

This thesis would be supervised by Dr Dianne Sheppard, Dr Ross Iles, Dr Melita Giummarra and partnering with IPAR Rehabilitation.


Commuting to and from work: The impact on workplace compensation claims

Despite the fact that commuting is an important part of the day for those who work, the detrimental effects of this activity have long been established. Much literature has established that travel mode can negatively affect worker health and wellbeing (e.g., higher depression and anxiety, low satisfaction in life). Commuting is a lifestyle choice and greater distances travelled between home and work places an even greater demand on workers’ time. This creates a problem given that the inability to maintain an appropriate work-life balance has been identified as a factor influencing the psychological health of the workforce. The physical health of the workforce may also be influenced. Travelling longer distances is likely to increase the effects of fatigue, including difficulty in maintaining alertness and vigilance. This project will explore the relationship between the distance travelled in a car between where people live and work and workplace injury compensation claims. The student could explore this issue from multiple perspectives, such as the relationship between the distance travelled and workplace injury compensation claims, the physical and psychological impact of commuting and recovery and Return to Work outcomes among commuters. Furthermore, the research could address the total cost of commuting in terms of commuting injury incidence (direct effect of transport injury), workplace injury incidence (indirect effect of commuting, through fatigue and time pressure) and workplace injury recovery cost.

This thesis would be supervised by Dr Sharon Newnam and Assoc Prof Janneke Berecki-Gisolf


Improving the safety of older heavy vehicle drivers

The overarching goal of this project is to reduce crashes among older Heavy Vehicle Drivers (HVDs). The objective of this project will be to develop a program that can be used by HVDs and trucking company management to keep HVDs on the road for as long as they can safely drive. This project will aim to:

  1. conduct an analysis of HV crash data to identify risk factors that contribute to crashes among older HVDs;
  2. conduct a synthesis of the literature to identify existing preventive strategies in the road freight transport industry;
  3. conduct a series of group and individual structured interviews with HVDs, trucking company management and regulators/government bodies;
  4. develop a system-based conceptual framework that identifies risks and existing countermeasures for older HVDs, and;
  5. develop a practical toolkit to help guide organisations in the safety management of older HVDs in the road freight transport industry.

This thesis would be supervised by Dr Sharon Newnam and Dr Sjaan Koppel.


Aggression, confidence and driving behaviour in older drivers

Driver aggression is increasing on Australian roads. While previous research suggests that aggressive driving can result from expressions of anger or be symbolic of a driving style and this is more common in younger male drivers, there is relatively little research investigating driver aggression in older drivers, which may be a consequence of the low levels of anger and aggression reported by this cohort. However, while these drivers may not directly engage in aggression, they could be the recipients of driver aggression which may negatively affect their driving experience and confidence. This is an important area of research, given Australia’s ageing population and the expectations of increased licensing rates and motor vehicle use by older drivers. This project would explore the prevalence of aggression on Australian roads and specifically examine the consequences of this in a sample of older drivers. The project would include a large-scale survey to provide novel information regarding the prevalence of aggression on Australian roads as well as self-reported emotion and behaviour while driving across different age groups. A smaller subsection of participants would be invited to complete the survey again 12 months later to provide information on behaviour changes among that time. A number of simulator studies would also be conducted to examine how driver emotion and behaviour changes as a result of other drivers’ behaviours. The design of this would be heavily influenced by the survey results.

This thesis would be supervised by Dr Sjaan Koppel and Dr Amanda Stephens.