Meet Barbara Banz, AAAM member and Scientific Program Committee Chair for AAAM’s 2024 Annual Scientific Conference. Get to know the assistant professor at Yale in her own words.

How long have you been a member of AAAM?

I joined in 2020! But I didn’t get to attend in person until 2022 in Portland.

What inspired you to join AAAM?

I wanted to be immersed in all aspects of traffic safety research. Joining AAAM gave me the opportunity to meet and network with so many authors I had been reading and researchers in fields outside of my normal focus.

What are your main areas of interest in the field of Automotive Medicine?

via Yale School of Medicine

My research program focuses on the unique vulnerabilities of young drivers with a particular focus on relating to vehicle control while not impaired in populations that use alcohol or cannabis. I use cognitive neuroscience, driving simulation, and mixed methods to understand factors surrounding young driver safety, impaired driving, and factors that can be used to identify greater crash riskiness to develop tailored driver training and intervention programming.

What do you find most rewarding about working in this field?

Knowing the work we do will translate to changes in public safety and policies that save lives. I’m fortunate to be a faculty member at the Yale Department of Emergency Medicine. All of the research we do helps keep drivers safe and reduce crashes. Our members approach traffic safety from very diverse research disciplines and ideologies, and every AAAM member supports our organization’s mission.

What challenges have you faced over the years, and how have you overcome them?

Pivoting my career path from a mostly cognitive neuroscience and substance use focus after my first postdoc fellowship was tough! I switched departments and research worlds over a literal weekend. But I transitioned to being under the mentorship of Drs. Federico Vaca and Tim Brown both supported my ideas and unique traffic safety interests. Since then, they have been instrumental in creating a multidisciplinary research program that I am passionate about and dedicated to advancing.

What’s something about you (a fun fact) that not many people know?

I’m a lifelong athlete. I’ve played competitive Ultimate Frisbee since college, I’m an avid rock climber, and I can do a Turkish get-up with a 40-pound kettlebell (still aiming for higher).

via Barbara Banz

How do you think the field is changing, and what trends do you see coming up on the horizon?

I think recently, the general public is thinking about their cars or transportation differently and it’s coming up in everyday conversation more often. It seems like people aren’t just thinking about their safety features or what they like to drive. I’m hearing more conversations about anything from the rapidly changing technology and how changes on the horizon might (or might not) fit their life to safety concerns for all road users, not just drivers. It’s an exciting time because it might mean a greater focus on traffic safety and safer roads.

What advice would you give to someone interested in this field?

Reach out and talk to folks who publish and carry out research in the field. You never know where a conversation will go – just chatting with people can turn into collaborations, funding opportunities, etc. AAAM members are very welcoming and supportive. This group wants to grow the field. Also, patience and perseverance.

What’s one thing – either field-related or not – you learned in the last month?

That a woman had a pet hermit crab for 45 ½ years; he was thought to be 50-60 years old! His name was Jonathon Livingston Crab.

Is there anything else you would like to share with your colleagues?

Get involved! Join a committee (or two!), be active, and say “yes” to opportunities. Being a Scientific Programming and Membership Committee member has been really rewarding. I think sometimes it can be intimidating to take on more responsibility, or maybe you don’t feel like you are “ready,” but contributing to AAAM is completely worth it. Getting involved gives you a seat at the table, a better perspective and buy-in on the organization, and real insight into how innovative and diverse the work our colleagues are doing really is!