By KERRI-ANN O'SULLIVAN
KERRIE Dennis aims to increase road safety in the Coffs Coast region and throughout Australia using her research project.
The PhD student at Coffs Harbour's Southern Cross University said the high number of road fatalities on the Pacific Highway prompted her to investigate the impact of billboard warning signs and roadside memorials on driver behaviour.
"Around August of last year, we had a really horrific time on our roads," Ms Dennis said at the start of her three-year project.
"You couldn't turn on the radio without hearing more fatalities every day and I felt heartsick and wanted to do something about it.
"A lot of psychological research surrounding driver behaviour has looked at what is going on outside the car and how that impacts on drivers."
Her research will be done in a controlled laboratory in the Department of Psychology.
"When you're looking at roadside research, obviously for ethical and safety reasons you have to be very careful about how you go about it," she said.
Ms Dennis will determine the extent of individual differences in the responses, and Dr Steve Provost will supervise .
"Unfortunately, a number of well-known psychological principles suggest not only that people will differ greatly in their response to signs but that maintaining an anxiety response is likely to be difficult," Dr Provost said.
Ms Dennis added: "Young people are over-represented in the road fatalities and so are older people. I will be looking at the three different age catagories and if their reactions are the same."
Results will be collected in a driving simulation context in the next three months.
"I will be looking for licensed drivers of all ages to participate," Ms Dennis said.