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UCSD Gets $500K to Silence Chatty Drivers, Promote Safety

The grants are to be used to help reduce cell phone distracted driving and promote safety for older drivers.

Photo by the Office of Traffic Safety.
Photo by the Office of Traffic Safety.
UC San Diego has been awarded two grants totaling nearly $500,000 to combat distracted driving and help the elderly stay safe behind the wheel.

State transportation officials announced the funding Monday as part of an $87 million grant program for nearly 300 safety projects.

“Traffic safety is at a crossroads,” Christopher J. Murphy, director of the California Office of Traffic Safety said in the announcement. “Roadway deaths dropped 37 percent from 2006 to 2010, but we have seen a slight upturn since. The programs funded by these grants are aimed squarely at holding the line, and even reversing it once again.”

The 274 projects awarded funding cover a range of traffic safety issues, from drivers talking on their cell phones to DUIs to bicycle and pedestrian safety awareness campaigns. UC San Diego's grants will go toward two projects: a worksite course to help reduce cell phone distracted driving ($144,937) and training professionals to promote older driver safety ($333,997).

About 7 percent of drivers actively use cell phones at any one time, according to an observational study announced last month by state officials, down from one in 10 drivers in 2012. But safety officials caution the figures likely don't capture the full extent of the problem as it's hard to see drivers using Bluetooth devices, speakerphone and headphones.

"Any number is too high, since any usage of cell phones while driving takes away too much of our brain’s ability to react to what’s happening on the road, not to mention when our hands or eyes are disengaged also," Murphy said.

Several other state universities also were announced as grant recipients Monday to investigate motorcycle crashes (Cal Poly Pomona, $100,000), survey seat belt use (Cal State Fresno, $273,000) and increase DUI awareness (UC Irvine, $642,000).

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