Making cars safer with advanced warning systems has the potential for causing other safety concerns for drivers. That dilemma is the basis for a new contract awarded by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to TTI and other team members.
“The U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) is supporting efforts for automobile manufacturers and their suppliers to develop communications systems that allow vehicles to ‘talk’ to each other and to the roadside,” says Human Factors Program Manager Sue Chrysler. “These systems offer great potential for enhanced safety systems that are currently only available through expensive onboard sensors. But do those warnings, and the alarms and flashing lights that come with them, cause drivers to be distracted?”
TTI’s role in the NHTSA project, entitled Human Factors for Connected Vehicles, is to help develop a set of tests to measure the distraction potential of the individual warning systems. Human Factors Program Researchers Joel Cooper and Christine Yager are both major contributors to the project. The team is working to minimize the distraction potential of the system, not only for safety, but for mobility and sustainability applications as well.
Their initial work will focus on developing metrics to quantify the degrees of distraction potential of the Connected Vehicle System in terms of their effect on driving performance. Certain display configurations, for instance, are expected to have more distraction potential than others. Similarly, auditory warnings may in some cases be preferable to visual dashboard warning lights. The researchers have already developed some Connected Vehicle-like tasks that will be part of the evaluations done in a driving simulator and also in a real-world environment on TTI’s test track facility. The research will be the first to examine and measure an overall advance warning system, rather than examining individual subsystems.
Connected Vehicles technology will have a range of more than 300 meters, so it will be feasible to make far more information available to drivers than currently possible. The challenge lies in how to do so without distracting those drivers.
Other research team members include the University of Iowa, consultant Linda Angell, and the human factors arm of WESTAT, which is leading the nine-month project. The human factors track for the Connected Vehicles program extends over the next five years, and this project is one of the first tasks in that program.