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OU researcher’s impact on driver awareness recognised with top award

Finger on phone button on a steering wheel

Open University researcher Dr Gemma Briggs has won an O²RB Excellence in Impact Award 2021, recognising her role in influencing a UK road safety campaign to warn drivers of the dangers of using hands-free ‘phones while on the road. 

Supported by the University of Oxford’s ESRC Impact Acceleration Account (IAA), the awards recognise and reward social scientists whose research has a profound economic and social impact.

Applied research

Dr Briggs’ applied research demonstrated that because phone conversations draw on the same critical cognitive resources needed for visual perception, using a phone on the road severely reduces drivers’ hazard detection abilities, situation awareness and significantly increases the risk of collisions.

National impact

The Head of Discipline & Senior Lecturer in Psychology from the School of Psychology & Counselling works with policymakers and police chiefs and awareness-raising through the media has significantly influenced national policy, police campaigns, and public attitudes towards the dangers of phone use at the wheel. This danger contributes to an average of five deaths per day on UK roads.

Recognising research excellence

The awards named Dr Briggs among leading UK academics whose collaborations with policymakers, industry partners, academics and NGOs around the globe address urgent societal challenges. Other winners included academics working in a broad range of areas, from assessing the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on parenting stress and child abuse to exploring European cities’ policies and practices towards irregular migrants.

Reacting to her award, Dr Briggs said: “I’m delighted to have been given this award, which recognises the work that I’ve carried out alongside several colleagues and partner organisations. It’s great that our research has achieved impact in this way and that there is an appetite in both the public and private sectors to engage with this work in the hope of achieving evidence-based practice.

“It’s equally fantastic that public awareness of the dangers of hands-free phone use while driving is increasing, and the opportunity to help the police and road safety charities to share research in this area has been valuable.”

Dr Briggs will share reflections on her impact journey at the Awards ceremony, live-streamed from Oxford University’s Museum of Natural History on 19 October 2021, from 6 pm.

Register for the live-stream

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