An initiative from Royal Holloway has been named as one of the UK’s 100 best breakthroughs for its significant impact on people’s everyday lives.
Professor John Wann from the university’s Department of Psychology is honoured in the UK’s Best Breakthroughs list of the last century from UUK, for his pioneering work on understanding why road accidents happen and how we can help improve safety.
The research looked at why adults and children sometimes make critical errors in their everyday road judgement, despite advances in vehicle technology and road infrastructure.
Using virtual road scenes and brain imaging, researchers looked at the limitations of the perceptual systems we use to make these judgements. Key findings found that accurate judgements of oncoming vehicle speed improved during childhood, but primary school children are still not making adult-like judgements.
In particular, they struggle with judgements when the speed of an approaching vehicle goes above 25mph.
There also appeared to be a decline in speed judgements over the age of 75 years, which is in line with the higher incidence of junction accidents in the 75+ age group.
The research also identified why it’s particularly problematic for drivers to judge the approach speed of motorcycles or bicycles, particularly with night-time lighting.
The solution was to integrate knowledge of human perceptual limitations into all our road systems.
Now, thanks to the research, local authorities are using the findings to review speed limits in urban areas and the work was cited in a parliamentary debate that reversed cuts to road crossing patrols for children.
The study was also used to support a number of successful campaigns for 20mph zones and to pilot a different motorcycle lighting configuration to increase night-time safety.
The research is now being used in ongoing advisory input to a major car manufacturer on driver assistance systems.
The list of breakthroughs demonstrates how UK universities are at the forefront of some of the world’s most important discoveries, innovations and social initiatives, including the discovery of penicillin, work tackling plastic pollution, ultrasound scans to check the health of unborn babies and the establishment of the Living Wage.
The list also highlights the less celebrated but vital breakthroughs that transform lives, including a specially-designed bra to help women undergoing radiotherapy; a toilet that flushes human waste without the need for water; the development of a new scrum technique to make rugby safer; a sports initiative that aims to use football to resolve conflict in divided communities; - and even work to protect the quality of the chocolate we eat.
The list was compiled by Universities UK, the umbrella group for UK universities, as part of the MadeAtUni campaign to change public perceptions of universities and bring to life the difference they make to people, lives and communities across the UK.
It follows independent research undertaken by Britain Thinks which found that the public has little understanding of the benefits of universities beyond undergraduate teaching. The findings show that research is one of the key triggers to change opinion about universities but for many people, it is an abstract concept.
A spokesperson from Royal Holloway, University of London said: “As one of the leading university’s in research in the country, we strive to make sure the work we do has a positive impact on society and it is a fantastic achievement for us to be featured in the UK’s Best Breakthrough list.
“We’re extremely proud of the work of our academics and difference they are making to people, lives and communities.
“The MadeAtUni campaign is an important initiative as it allows students, alumni, the local community and the wider population to understand the work that we do and the impact it has.”
Professor Dame Janet Beer, President of Universities UK, said: “Universities really do transform lives. The technology we use every day, the medicines that save lives, the teachers who inspire – all come from UK universities and the important work being done by academics.
“The UK’s Best Breakthroughs list is a testament to the difference that universities make to people’s lives and we want everyone to join us in celebrating the work they do.”
The UK’s Best Breakthroughs list: 100+ Ways Universities Have Improved Everyday Life was put together in partnership with universities across the UK. As part of the MadeAtUni campaign, every university in the country was invited to nominate the one thing from their institution which they believe has had the biggest impact on people, lives and communities. Over 100 universities submitted a nomination. The entries cover health, technology, environment, family, community and culture and sport.