Montana State University

Mechanical & Industrial Engineering

Nicholas J. Ward
Professor of Mechanical Engineering
Montana State University
P.O. Box 173800
Bozeman, MT 59717-3800

Tel: (406) 994-5942
Fax: (406) 994-1697
E-mail: nward@ie.montana.edu
Location: 220 Roberts Hall

Nicholas J. Ward, Ph.D., F.Erg.S.


Research

Research has been the primary emphasis of my academic career, with a focus on the application of cognitive psychology (cognitive engineering) to the analysis of system safety, as well as the design and evaluation of usable systems and innovative products.  The majority of my research has focused on the road transportation system.  Given that the World Health Organization expects that traffic crashes will become the third leading cause of fatalities and disability by the year 2020, research to improve traffic safety has significant social value.  Toward this goal, my transportation research has combined basic and applied cognitive psychology to analyse crash factors, specify support functions, and design interfaces for intelligent driver support systems.  This research has made extensive use of driving simulators and instrumented vehicles for the purpose of usability testing of these intelligent systems to support future deployment decisions.

Most recently, my transportation research has extended to the modelling of the psychosocial factors in our traffic safety culture that propagate behavioural risk and influences the decisions of transportation agencies to develop and support traffic safety interventions and policies.

As shown in Table 1, I have secured more than 12 million dollars in research funding from a range of international sources during my academic career.  This includes funding from government agencies (EU Commission, MnDOT, FHWA, NHTSA, and NSF), public organizations (Murdock Charitable Trust), and industry (Nissan, GM, Ford, Jaguar, Renault, and DriveCAM).

For example, I have conducted research on the cognitive and behavioural basis of distracted and drunk driving (530-6602).  This research showed that distraction can result in more cognitive and behavioural impairment than low doses of alcohol (BAC 0.08%).  Indeed, measures of brain activity during an odd-ball ERP paradigm suggested that distraction and intoxication share similar patterns of diminished brain activation.  As another example, I have conducted research to specify system functionality and develop interface designs for a decision support system for drivers to select safe gaps at intersections (530-6583).  This research was based on a cognitive analysis on the driving task that led to an interface based on ecological design principles that was later evaluated in a driving simulator and a subsequent field study.  This evaluation included not only behavioural measures driving performance, but also measures of driver cognitive processes while interacting with the interface.  As a final example, I have included in the usability testing of several systems (530-6538) an assessment of the extent to which users adopt riskier behaviours in response to perceived safety benefits of the system in order to maintain a target level of risk (above zero).  This risk response is predicated on theories of risk perception and “behavioural adaptation”.

 

 

Table 1.  Summary of Research Funding.