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USF study places cameras in hundreds of cars

6:59 AM, Aug 1, 2011   |    comments
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Tampa, FL -- If the whole Big Brother thing doesn't bother you that much, you may want to consider participating in a national driving study being offered over at USF. You could also get paid $500 a year for participating.

The data they're collecting could make driving a lot safer for years to come. But there's a catch, because researchers will be watching you at every turn. Literally.

Cameras and computers mounted on and inside the vehicle will record every move drivers make for the next one or two years. The $50 million federally-funded study is being conducted at the University of South Florida and five other spots around the country.

"As long as they're compatible with our equipment, we can use it," said Achilleas Kourtellis, who heads the program at USF.

Since November they've quietly recruited 120 drivers, but they need about about 450, so they're publicizing the program to drum-up more volunteers.

The three year study will track 3,000 motorists nationally. It's designed to record critical data, especially just before crashes, which could eventually be used to shape vehicle designs, safety systems, even laws governing driving safety.

"The idea is that this database that's going to be created will be used for decades to come," says Kourtellis.

You  might think people with cameras in their cars would change their driving habits, knowing they're being watched. But researchers say that only lasts about two weeks and then people more or less forget about the monitoring equipment.

Participating vehicles are each equipped with five cameras: one facing forward, another on the driver's eyes, a third on their feet, one takes video of the entire vehicle cabin, and a fifth looks out the back.

The data, along with everything from blinkers to brakes, is collected on hard drives and retrieved every six months. The information and video are encrypted, so Kourtellis says you can forget ever seeing it on YouTube.

Participants' names also remain confidential.

That was important to 42-year-old LaShawn, a mother of two from Tampa who was registering for the study.

The $500 a year she and others will receive is nice too, she says, but the real motivation for her was knowing the study might one day make the roadways a safer place for her kids.

"Not just mine, but yours, family members, anyone else that's driving," she said, "Driving should be the utmost concern when you enter that car. Everyone wants to text, everyone wants to eat, everyone wants to put on make-up."

People thinking about volunteering their vehicles are encouraged to check out the website for details and eligibility.

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