Ryan Smith, Group Leader

Center for Vulnerable Road User Safety: Impaired Driving Research, Evaluation, and Analysis

Dr. Ryan C. Smith is currently group leader of the Impaired Driving Research, Evaluation, and Analysis group for the Center for Vulnerable Road User Safety at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI). Smith specializes in advanced statistical techniques and field research methodologies with an emphasis on the topics of alcohol, drugs, and driver impairment. Ryan has over a decade of experience researching alcohol-impaired driving.

To date, Smith has approximately one hundred peer-reviewed journal articles, book chapters, and conference presentations related to alcohol and drugs. This includes chairing symposia on the topics of alcohol and drug abuse at leading conferences such as the American Psychological Association (APA), Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI), and the Association for Psychological Science (APS). He has presented research on a range of topics including: NCAA Division I football tailgate drinking and driving, fraternity party binge drinking, parental patterns of punishment and child drinking, drinking motives and expectancies among university students, alcohol's influence on perceptions of sexual assault and victimization, high school prom night alcohol consumption, designated driver use and sobriety, and alcohol-impaired driving. He also serves as a scientific peer-reviewer for a number of scientific journals including the American Journal of Public Health, Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, Journal of Safety Research, and Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment.

As a PI or Co-PI, Smith has brought in nearly one million dollars in extramural funds. This portfolio includes research on alcohol and drug-impaired driving and advanced vehicle technology. He recently received funding to perform one of the first naturalistic driving studies on the effects of cannabis on driving performance in the state of Colorado. With a quickly changing legal climate on marijuana usage for both medical and recreational purposes, this research could provide drastically needed insight into the consequences and effects of driving under the influence of cannabis.

Smith tries to extend beyond traditional self-report research by exploring the effects of alcohol and drugs in field and naturalistic settings. He recently completed the validation effort for the SHRP 2 alcohol sensor. The SHRP 2 database contains over 50 million miles of naturalistic driving data on approximately 3,000 drivers. Each vehicle was equipped with a sensor that was designed to detect the presence of alcohol within the vehicle cabin. Smith developed an algorithm to process the sensor readings to provide an estimate of alcohol presence within the vehicle. Working with the Center for Applied Behavior Systems, Smith has led the largest research field effort to collect blood alcohol content (BAC) data from consumers of alcohol in a natural setting. The team recently collected their 15,000th BAC outside of local bars in the Blacksburg area. This information is being used to better understand transportation related behaviors and perceptions among individuals under the influence of alcohol.

Smith is a member of a number of professional and service organizations. He is a member of the Alcohol, Other Drugs, and Transportation committee of the Transportation Research Board. He is also a member of the board of directors for Virginia College Parents- a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization aimed at reducing harm from alcohol and drugs on college and university campuses. In various roles, he has given dozens of presentations to high school and college audiences regarding the risks of alcohol abuse and misuse.

Smith holds a Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from Virginia Tech. He also holds a Master's Degree in I/O Psychology and three Bachelor's degrees in the fields of psychology, sociology, and political science - all from Virginia Tech.