Minnesota study tests whether in-vehicle signing could improve driver behavior

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Researchers at the University of Minnesota’s (U of M) HumanFIRST Laboratory recently tested how in-vehicle signing, perhaps presented on a smartphone or vehicle display, could alert drivers and modify their behavior.

Led by principal investigator Nichole Morris, the U of M project examined how drivers react to in-vehicle sign (IVS) systems designed to prepare them for transitions to new driving conditions, such as speed limit changes, school and construction zones and curves. The project, sponsored by the Minnesota Local Road Research Board, arose from a previous Minnesota DOT study that looked at the feasibility of using smartphones for implementing connected vehicle programs. One of the questions that came out of that study was whether road signage could be eliminated from the roadside and displayed in the vehicle instead. Doing so could save tax dollars related to sign installation and maintenance, improve landscapes, and make it easier to keep signage up-to-date.

The researchers began by developing a simulated route for the HumanFIRST driving simulator using a real roadway network from southern Minnesota. Forty participants were asked to drive the 24-mile simulated route, which included freeways, two-lane rural roads, and towns, with and without the IVS system activated. As they drove, performance measures were collected. The teams found that an IVS system would affect driving performance in several ways. When it was used without external signs, speeding and speed variability increased. Speeds did not increase, however, when both IVS systems and external signs were used, and variability in speed declined slightly. The researchers also evaluated the usability of the technology. Test participants reported that the mental workload required to drive when an IVS was used instead of external signs was greater than under baseline conditions. Driver satisfaction with the IVS was also lower when it was used alone. The study also found that IVS systems did not appear to cause driver distraction.

“Safety across all crash types was significantly reduced when in-vehicle warnings were used without external signs,” Morris said. “This suggests that as a supplement to external signs, the IVS system might reduce traffic speed variability and improve safety. Although using IVS systems instead of external signs would presumably save money on infrastructure costs, we do not recommend this. However, we do believe that using these systems, in conjunction with external signs, has the potential to reduce speeding and crashes, and needs to be explored further.”

In the future, researchers hope to see this work expanded to examine the role of emerging IVS systems that could deliver important safety information between connected vehicles, such as speeds at intersections and work zones. In addition, understanding how drivers respond to IVS systems could assist emergency vehicles in creating a cleared path and encourage drivers to comply with ‘move over’ laws.

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Tom has edited Traffic Technology International magazine and the Traffic Technology Today website since he joined the company in May 2014. Prior to this he worked on some of the UK's leading consumer magazine titles including Men's Health and Glamour, beginning his career in journalism in 1997 after graduating with a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).

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