Toyota has announced it is partnering with six American universities and research institutions to study auto safety issues ranging from driver education and collision mitigation to accident reconstruction and improved crash data analysis.

The projects broaden the scope of research being conducted at a center in Ann Arbor, Mich., that the manufacturer launched earlier this year to study ways of reducing traffic fatalities and injuries.

Toyota opened its Collaborative Safety Research Center (CSRC) as part of a five-year, $50 million plan to research safety innovations after the company was involved in several high-profile safety recalls in recent years.

Toyota USA Headquarters

Toyota USA Headquarters (Photo courtesy of Toyota)

The collaborative research projects show Toyota’s commitment to safety and to “openly sharing innovations that benefit the automotive industry and society as a whole,” Chuck Gulash, CSRC director, said in a statement.

Studies will be carried out by Toyota officials working with researchers at six facilities, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass., and Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C., according to the company.

Research is to focus on the development, testing and implementation of safety innovations aimed at reducing driver distraction and protecting “vulnerable traffic populations” including children, teens, senior citizens and pedestrians.

Distracted driving—which includes motorist behavior such as texting, eating and applying makeup behind the wheel—is a major focus area for federal safety, auto industry and insurance officials alike. And federal safety officials say statistics show that teenage drivers are far more likely than their older counterparts to become distracted while driving.

Because insurance companies consider such factors in setting premiums, that means teenagers are not only at greater risk of physical harm in an automobile but also more expensive to cover, making cheap insurance for young drivers hard to find for families nationwide.

Specific research projects undertaken by Toyota include:

–A two-year study on the effects on driver distraction from in-vehicle voice command systems (Toyota says the results will be shared with NHTSA.)

–A five-year project studying ways to develop more realistic test scenarios for pedestrian pre-collision systems (PCS)

–An 18-month study of the effects of age and changes in body shape and posture on seat-belt fit

–A three-year project looking into the benefits of “brain fitness training” for older motorists

–A three-year study of the cognitive aspects of driver distraction

The collaborative research projects add to existing partnerships with the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.