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University of Iowa student aims to improve rural road safety with unique study

Kayla Faust explains the tractor simulator

Kayla Faust has been part of the Iowa farming community since she was a child. That's why the doctoral student at the University of Iowa College of Public Health has dedicated months of work to a study improving rural driving for farmers. Her study involves a unique tractor driving simulator equipped with everything a farmer would find on their regular tractor. The data is then analyzed in hopes of trying to find clues as to what could prevent crashes involving farm vehicles in the future.

"Because of the high number of crashes and the high fatality risks associated with a crash involving a tractor," Faust says. "Any information we can gain on the causes of those could potentially protect farmers in the future."

Government data identifies farming as one of the most dangerous occupations in the country. About 100 agricultural workers a day suffer injuries that do not allow them to return to work the next day. Growing up around farms her whole life, Faust knows the danger and it motivates her to finish the study with concrete data to improve occupational safety.

"I don't personally know any farmer or somebody who has been involved with farming who doesn't know somebody who has been killed or seriously injured in a tractor related incident," Faust says. "This could be extremely beneficial to the farming community as well as other road users."

Instead of having to use a super computer, or immense commuting power, her tractor simulator only needs one personal computer to run the entire simulation. Her study is housed at the prestigious University of Iowa National Advanced Driving Simulator in Coralville, where experts work on car and driver safety on a daily basis. Her simulator is a recycled semi truck simulation now able to look and feel just like the cab of a tractor. The study participants ride a pre-determined course from one farm to another, dropping off the vehicle they are driving. Because it is such a common task for an area farmer, most participants would potentially be in a similar situation on a daily basis. Data is collected while the participants are driving, including reaction times, view paths and other factors.

"We want to be able to use this simulator in the future to conduct other studies, which could look at crash risk or impaired driving or even connecting it to a personal vehicle simulator to see how they interact on the roads because we do know a majority of crashes are not caused by the tractor."

If you are interested in participating in the study, Faust is currently looking for farmers 65 and older, who have experience driving farm machinery. You can contact her via email, kayla-faust@uiowa.edu or call 319-350-8175.


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