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Principles of Driving Psychology

by Dr. Leon James
Professor of Psychology
University of Hawaii


Clickable Table of Contents

Methods of Driving Psychology
Current Applications
Theory in Driving Psychology
Three Domains of Driving Behavior: Affective, Cognitive, Sensorimotor
Why Prior Interventions Have Been Unsuccessful in Reducing Dangerous Driver Behavior
Basic Principles of Driving Psychology
Applied Programs and Techniques
Commercial Drivers
Emotionally Intelligent Driver Personality Skills
Exhibit 1: Driving Psychology Materials in Media Communications




In 1985 I coined the phrase "Driving Psychology" to represent a new field of knowledge that I began to teach at the University of Hawaii. It brings together five scientific areas that I consider critical for a full understanding of driving behavior:

Driving Psychology is now in the beginning stages and is still evolving in content and method, in response to the new need for managing driving behavior in an industrialized society. The goal of Driving Psychology is to reverse the natural trend of escalating accidents that occur with a sharp increase in the number of drivers and miles driven. The escalation of accidents, injuries, and their financial cost is a preventable phenomenon, but it requires socio-cultural interventions by government, social agencies, and citizen organizations. It is not preventable or containable by law enforcement methods alone because these are external coercion mechanisms that have only a limited effect. Drivers will revert to aggressive driving styles when detection by police can be avoided. Compliance is dependent on surveillance. See my congressional testimony here.

On the other hand, it is possible to use internal methods of managing drivers’ attitudes and habits of thinking in order to influence the norms of driving in a society or region. Driving Psychology provides the theory and methods for creating this type of internal influence by securing the voluntary cooperation and support of drivers for lifelong self-improvement activities. These internal methods are fully effective in the long run since they are incorporated into the personality and moral philosophy of each driver. Internal influence cannot be coerced since drivers can fake attitudes to comply with tests or inspections. As soon as surveillance is withdrawn or eluded, the negative attitude asserts itself in freedom. Therefore, internal influence is possible only through the voluntary cooperation of each individual. This voluntary cooperation can be engineered by means of the social influencing process that naturally occurs in Quality Driving Circles (QDCs) functioning through a Standard QDC Curriculum. Long term QDC membership erodes resistance to change and builds enthusiasm for practicing collectivist and supportive driving scripts, schemas, roles, and norms.

In addition, the new driving norms that these socio-cultural methods create are then spontaneously adopted from their parents by the current generation of children who will form the next wave of drivers in the region. The new, more supportive driving norms, along with more collectivist expectations about traffic, can be expected to have long term benefits to both the individual and society. It has been observed that individualistic and competitive expectations lead drivers to be aggressive and hostile towards other road users. This aggressive frame of mind can generalize to other interactive settings such as the workplace and the family, creating higher stress and greater conflict. Similarly, the more supportive and collectivist expectations can be expected to generalize to other social settings, creating less stress and conflict, and more satisfaction and calmness. Thus, Driving Psychology is also a health-enhancing practice.


Methods of Driving Psychology

Historically, Driving Psychology closely relates to the behavior management techniques used in these fields:

  • behavioral and transactional engineering
    - teaching principles of self-modification of behavior (short term and long term)
    - developing databases of taxonomic inventories of affective, cognitive, and sensorimotor driving habits across regions and time
  • group dynamic techniques for engineering new generational norms
    - Kurt Lewin—group dynamic forces on personality change
    - Albert Ellis—rational-emotive integration (including emotional intelligence)
    - L. Kohlberg—levels of moral development
    - Albert Bandura—social influencing mechanisms in the self
  • behavioral assessment of skills
    - formative evaluation of learning or training
    - summative evaluation of instruction
    - testing of competencies and licensing
    - long term self-assessment procedures
  • mass media communications and interventions
    - Content analysis of media portrayals of driving and their dissemination to the public to increase people’s awareness of their potential harmful influence.
    - DrDriving musicals and staged neighborhood or school productions to encourage positive role models for young drivers and to allow them to explore the socio-moral dialectic of driving behavior.
    - Radio call-in talk shows during heavy traffic hours to allow drivers a socially approved mechanism for expressing complaints and for sharing solutions and advice in accordance with the Standard QDC Curriculum and Driving Psychology.
    - Making available Driving Informatics facilities in public libraries and the workplace to satisfy people’s driving information needs
  • accident analysis and reconstruction
  • mandating standardized police record keeping on a regional or national basic
  • building national accident databases for scientists
  • building national, regional, and local data repositories obtained anonymously from QDCs and arranged by relevant scientific categories


Current Applications


  1. Encouraging drivers to practice self-witnessing behind the wheel (self-observation and self-monitoring record keeping using a variety of tools such as Data Forms, Trip Logs, tape recordings, etc.)
  2. Teaching drivers how to apply self-modification principles (Baseline/Intervention techniques by drivers)
  3. Teaching the Threestep Program for driving personality makeovers
  4. Encouraging drivers to maintain a Driving Log as way of promoting their long term involvement with self-improvement
  5. Promoting Partnership Driving arrangements to encourage friends or co-workers to assist drivers in self-improvement efforts
  6. Promoting Quality Driving Circles (QDCs) as a socio-cultural method for building up the motivation of drivers to practice lifelong self-modification activities.
    - This includes a national or regional program of incentives, awards, and benefits for drivers who maintain their QDC activities.
    - It also includes providing guidance through instructional materials such as Keeping Track Forms, Logs or Schedules that assist individuals in their driving exercises.
    - These Forms may also be made available anonymously to scientists who can use them as a continuous source of data for studying driver behavior on a long term basis. This type of research will assist government officials and agencies to continue the effective management of driving on a permanent basis.
  7. Increasing people’s awareness and focusing public attention on the social implications of car society, car talk, car attitudes and behaviors, through content analysis of
    - Accounts (or stories) drivers give when telling what happened
    - Messages drivers write in electronic discussion groups
    - Newspaper accounts of driving incidents
    - Public or media portrayals of drivers and driving (including books and advertisings)
    - Other sources that access the thoughts and feelings of people about driving

Analysis of Internet Newsgroups about driving and cars with participants from North America, Britain, Australia, and Singapore, has shown that aggressive and hostile attitudes among drivers is universal and transcends ethnic background. The psychological mechanisms that justify this hostility may vary from culture to culture. It is necessary therefore to develop culture-specific methods of social influence to bring about a change in norms of competition and hostility.

  1. Building inventories and taxonomies of affective, cognitive, and sensorimotor driving behaviors to guide scientists and safety officials, and to help define the content of public instruction and other educational materials for self-improvement efforts. Current inventories of driving behaviors in North America have been obtained through various methods, including:
    - surveys or polls using driver behavior check lists
    - content analysis of driving accounts (personal stories and media reports)
    - protocol analysis of transcripts of tape recordings made by drivers behind the wheel (self-witnessing method)
    - observations made by passengers and pedestrians
    - data gathered with specially equipped research vehicles
    - data gathered from driving simulators
  2. Supporting and promoting civic activism and social organizations that focus on driving and the car culture, e.g.,
    - groups focusing on aggressive driving prevention for children
    - groups identifying themselves as citizens against drunk driving or speeding
    - designated driver programs to fight alcohol related driving fatalities
    - youth against road rage organizations
    - public procedures for recognizing driver excellence (awards, certificates, nominations)
    - creating and supporting positive driving roles and heroes (e.g., DrDriving—the Musical, and other culturally integrated symbols of collectivist driving through music, drama, and dance)
    - providing racing parkways and off road driving in reserved areas to provide more acceptable alternatives to speeding and rough driving enthusiasts
  3. Providing access to Driving Informatics facilities to satisfy people’s driving information needs:
    - Driving self-improvement workbooks and curricula
    - Standard QDC Curriculum (Quality Driving Circles)
    - Accident recovery support organizations
    - Automotive needs (maintenance, repair, sales)
    - Travel information (including maps, weather, and traffic)
    - Insurance and legal
    - Training and Licensing
    - Violence prevention for children
    - Civic organizations (traffic control, safety education, impaired driving, legislation)
    - Car culture and history
    - World Wide Web activities (driving sites, newsgroups, organizations, conferences, initiatives, news)
    - Etc.

One of the major issues in driving informatics and driver management is to create universal and inexpensive delivery mechanisms for driver training and education. DrDriving's major new initiative in this direction is his development of TEE CARDS--please click to see details.


Theory in Driving Psychology

There are two perspectives on what people do as drivers, one external, the other, internal. The external view on driving includes road conditions and vehicle manipulation. Data on these is obtainable from instruments, measurements, and observer evaluation. The internal view on driving is the perspective of the drivers themselves: their sensations, perceptions, verbalizations, thoughts, decisions, emotions, and feelings. Data on these aspects of the behavior of drivers cannot be obtained by instruments, nor by an observer. Instead, some method must be devised by which the drivers can make records of their on-going perceptions, thoughts, and feelings. A common method is to obtain self-witnessing reports made by drivers who talk out loud into a tape recorder while they are driving. These concurrent reports are superior to retrospective reports obtained by interviewing drivers or giving them tests. After-the fact data depend on recollection and other distortions, while concurrent reports during driving allow drivers to label thoughts and emotions as they occur, thus increasing the reliability, validity, and comprehensiveness of the report.


Three Domains of Driving Behavior:

Affective, Cognitive, Sensori-motor

Since ancient times there has been agreement among philosophers that human capacities are organized into three distinct groups corresponding to the threefold human nature: the will, the understanding, and the actions of an individual. Modern psychologists also function within this threefold system of behavior. What pertains to the behavior of the will is called affective behavior and includes affections, feelings, motives, needs and everything that pertains to the goal-directedness of people's actions.

For example, signaling before changing lanes is a sensorimotor behavior embedded in an affective context: the driver maintains the motive of avoiding driving errors. In the absence of this motive, errors are committed and the driver fails to signal. Learning to maintain the motive of avoiding driving errors is an important affective driving skill. Frequently, affective driving errors occur when conflict between motives is experienced, as when a driver is in a hurry and speeds: the feeling of wanting to be cautious and law abiding is weakened by the feeling of urge to hurry and not be too late. The theory of driving behavior includes the capacity to explain the content and organization of affective driving skills and errors.

What pertains to the behavior of the understanding is called cognitive behavior and includes cognitions, thoughts, reasonings and everything that pertains to the decision-making and analyzing aspects of people's actions. For example, signaling before changing lanes is not only embedded in an affective (motivational) context, but in a cognitive context as well: the driver processes information by common sense logic. Learning to make correct judgments in routine driving incidents, is an important cognitive driving skill. Frequently, cognitive driving errors occur when an illogical sequence of interpretation leads to an incorrect decision, as for instance: "I know there is nobody behind me, therefore I won't bother signaling this time." This erroneous decision overlooks several reasons that should be taken into account such as: There may be somebody in my blind spot, or There may be somebody from the front that might turn in, or There may be a policeman watching; etc. A comprehensive theory of driving behavior has the capacity to identify correct and incorrect decision-making, and specify how cognitions interact with affections to produce overt acts.

What pertains to the individual's overt actions is called sensorimotor (or psychomotor) behavior and includes all experience that is mediated through sensory and motor channels. For example, signaling before changing lanes is a complex psychomotor action involving eye-hand coordination, motor readiness to apply the brakes if needed, twisting of neck to look behind, changes in breathing pattern, and less visible endocrine and neurologic changes. As well, silent or overt verbalizations may occur involving the articulatory system (e.g., "Oops, I didn't see that car!" or "Ok, now, watch out for that car"). A realistic driving theory includes the specification of the sequence of sensorimotor actions of drivers and how these are influenced by the on-going affective and cognitive context.

Driving Psychology always defines driving behavior in terms of these three inter-related domains of human behavior. Driver education and training need to explicitly address each of the three domains of driving behavior. Different instructional activities are needed for acquiring driving competence in each of the three domains. Similarly, when testing the competence of drivers, all three domains must be assessed by suitable and valid quiz items. Appendix 1 provides an instance of such a test. See the personality chart with the three zones here.


Why Prior Interventions Have Been Unsuccessful
in Reducing Dangerous Driver Behavior

In North America, cars have been mass produced for 102 years and there are now almost 200 million licensed drivers in the United States alone. Driving is the most dangerous activity for the majority of people in an industrialized society. Driving accidents have killed millions of people since 1900 and the number of deaths and injuries increase in proportion to the number of drivers and the total number of miles driven in an area or region. In North America, deaths and serious injuries from driving accidents were reduced as a result of these developments:

more and better roads
thus, safer roads with better traction, visibility, and maintenance

better designed cars
thus, cars equipped with better safety devices and crash proof designs that save lives—safety belt, air bag, child restraint car seat, shock absorption and controlled collapse, crash tests with dummies

better medical emergency services and infrastructure on highways and streets
thus, more survivors after crashes

better law enforcement
including, more personnel, use of electronic surveillance devices on highways and key intersections, new legislation to facilitate the conviction of guilty drivers, greater involvement of courts in remedial driver training for offenders

mandated driver and safety education in schools
including graduated licensing and other special provisions for elderly and handicapped drivers

more sophisticated transportation management systems
computer controlled traffic lights, traffic calming devices, re-routing schemes, HOV lanes, alternative transportation initiatives

economic incentives for drivers who remain accident free
added insurance cost for accident prone drivers, increased incentives or insurance reductions for accident-free drivers, special benefits accruing to enrolling in refresher courses and other self-improvement activities

It’s important to note that despite these definite and significant improvements in the seven areas indicated, the rate of traffic deaths and injuries remains relatively constant when viewed over a long term perspective of years and decades. For instance, in the 1950s the annual fatality rate due to driving accidents was around 50,000 while in the 1990s it is around 40,000. Yes, there is a reduction, but the curve has quickly leveled off and remains high around 40,000 deaths and over 3 million injuries. There seem to be two opposing forces operating.

On the one hand, the external environmental forces for greater safety (less risk):

The construction of more and better highways to accommodate the increasing numbers of drivers every year
The design of better and safer vehicles
A more efficient medical infrastructure to handle victims of crashes
Greater use of highway law enforcement and electronic surveillance as deterrents
And on the other hand, the internal individual forces for maintaining high risk (less safety):

The widespread acceptance of a competitive norm that values getting ahead of other drivers
The daily round schedule of time pressure and its mismanagement through rushing and disobeying traffic laws
The weakness of driver education programs so that most drivers have inadequate training in emotional self-control as drivers
The media portrayal of aggressive driving behaviors in a fun context
The psychological tendency to maintain a preferred level of risk, so that increased risks are taken when environmental improvements are introduced (also called "risk homeostasis")
Scientists and safety officials attribute this resistance to accident reduction to the attitude and behavior of drivers who tend to respond to safety improvements by driving more dangerously. It has been noted that a critical aspect of driving is the driver’s competence in balancing risk with safety. The risk in driving is largely under the control of the driver. The driver decides at every moment what risks to take and what to inhibit or avoid. Risk taking is a tendency that varies greatly between drivers as well as for the same driver at different times. Thus, if a road is made safer by straightening it, or by moving objects that interfere with visibility, drivers will compensate for the greater safety by driving faster on it—the so-called "risk homeostasis" phenomenon. The result is the maintenance of a constant subjective feeling of risk that is the normal habitual threshold for a particular driver. In such a driving environment, the rate of deaths or injuries tends to remain high, despite the safety improvements that are introduced.

The institutional or societal response to this stalemate between safety and risk tolerance, has been to increase enforcement activities by monitoring, ticketing, and jailing hundreds of thousands of drivers. Nevertheless, the number of deaths and injuries has remained nearly steady, year after year. Besides law enforcement, there has been an increase in litigation due to aggressive driving disputes between drivers, as well as more psychotherapy and counseling services, including anger management clinics and workshops, and community initiatives. Nevertheless, these remain scattered attempts, and have been unable to alter basic driving patterns.


Basic Principles of Driving Psychology

Driving Psychology is allied to all these scattered attempts and approaches even though its basic programs and principles have not yet been integrated or accepted by society. These basic principles can be stated as follows:

Driving is a complex of behaviors acting together as cultural norms.
Driving norms exist in three domains: affective, cognitive, and sensorimotor.
Driving norms are transmitted by parents, other adults, books, movies, TV.
The primary affective driving norms are:
valuing territoriality, dominance, and competition as a desirable driving style
condoning intolerance of diversity (in needs and competencies of other drivers)
supporting retribution ethics (or vigilante motives with desire to punish or amend)
social acceptance of impulsivity and risk taking in driving
condoning aggressiveness, disrespect, and the expression of hostility
These affective norms are negative and anti-social. Socio-cultural methods must be used to reduce the attractiveness of these aggressive norms and to increase the attractiveness of positive and cooperative driver roles.

The primary cognitive driving norms are:
inaccurate risk assessment
biased and self-serving explanations of driving incidents
lack of emotional intelligence as a driver
low or underdeveloped level of moral involvement (dissociation and egotism)
These cognitive norms are inaccurate and inadequate. Self-training and self-improvement techniques must be taught so that drivers can better manage risk and regulate their own emotional behavior.

The primary sensorimotor driving norms are:
automatized habits (un-self-conscious or unaware of one’s style and risk)
errors of perception (e.g., distance, speed, initiating wrong action)
lapses (in one’s attention or performance due to fatigue, sleepiness, drugs, boredom, inadequate training or preparation)
These sensorimotor norms are inadequate and immature. Lifelong driver self-improvement exercises are necessary to reach more competent habits of driving.

Driving norms and behavior can be changed by socio-cultural management techniques that create in the driver a desire for change, by weakening negative norms and strengthening positive norms of driving.

Since driving is a habit in three domains of behavior, driving self-improvement is possible and effective in improving this habit. Specific elements in each domains must be addressed in recognition of the fact that driving consists of hundreds of individual habits or skills, each of which can be identified, tested, and improved, on a long term basis.

Drivers maintain strong resistance to externally imposed restrictions and regulations so that these methods alone are not sufficient to create real changes in driver behavior. Socio-cultural methods of influence need to be used, such as QDCs (Quality Driving Circles).
Driving Psychology uses socio-cultural methods that act as change agents. Group dynamic forces are powerful influencing agents that can overcome drivers’ resistance to change. This is achieved by group activities that focus on this resistance in an explicit way, and afterwards, are put into conscious practice through follow up self-witnessing activities behind the wheel. These informal groups are called QDCs (Quality Driving Circles) and their function is to exert a long term or permanent socio-moral influence on the driving quality of its members. This positive influence is exerted by members on each other when they adhere to a Standard QDC Curriculum, as approved by designated safety officials or agencies on a regional or national basis. The QDC Curriculum is created through the principles of Driving Psychology.

Driving is a semi-conscious activity since much of it depends on automatized habits acquired through culture and experience over several years. Thus, the driver’s self-assessment is not objective or accurate, until trained in objective self-assessment procedures.

Driving inherently involves taking risks, making errors, and losing emotional self-control. Thus, drivers need to be trained in risk taking, error recovery, and emotional control under emergency or provocation conditions.

Obtaining a driver’s license cannot be considered the end of driver training. Continued driver training in the form of guided lifelong self-improvement activities is essential for acquiring new skills. These new skills are needed as driving gets more complex with technology such as
managing car audio devices
reading maps on screens
using computers
note taking
talking on phone or radio
keeping to a schedule
The Standard QDC Curriculum (Quality Driving Circles) needs to be kept up-dated continuously and the latest additions are to be made available to all functioning QDCs in a region. These up-dates are to focus on new developments that technology brings to vehicles and roads, all of which require the acquisition of new skills by drivers.


Applied Programs and Techniques

Driving Psychology is an applied field that creates a popular language of behavioral thinking about driving as a societal issue. This issue is complex and overlaps with technical and non-technical intellectual environments. The language and ideas in Driving Psychology are scientifically sound and accurate. However, it is not a basic science like psychology and does not follow its rigor in application. The theory and concepts of Driving Psychology are freely borrowed and adapted from

social psychology (e.g., schemas, scripts, attribution error, territoriality, etc.)
developmental psychology (e.g., stages of moral development, moral IQ, etc.)
health psychology (e.g., resistance to compliance, addictive behaviors, lifestyle management)
applied psychology (e.g., driving behavioral, risk homeostasis, ergonomics of errors, etc.)
traffic psychology (driver management, pedestrian behavior, traffic safety education, etc.)
clinical psychology (behavior self-modification of maladaptive habits, etc.)
traffic sociology (e.g., social conventions on highways, attitudes towards laws, etc.)
automotive medicine (e.g., seat belt and child restraint use, effect of cars on health, etc.)
transportation engineering (traffic calming devices, alternative transportation initiatives, etc.)
and others.
The language of Driving Psychology is adapted to specific populations and purposes. Driving Psychology principles and programs are cast in a popularized but scientific language that is suitable for people of different educational level, age, and experience. In order for driver management programs to be effective, the drivers involved must be motivated to cooperate on their own. The desire for cooperation must stem from their understanding and acceptance. Understanding must be instructed, and acceptance must be won. The less perception of coercion, the greater the need for voluntary compliance, which depends on adequate understanding. Internal motivation for lifelong driver self-improvement is effective and dependable, but externally imposed rules are less effective and dependable.

The concepts and methods of Driving Psychology have to be clear to the drivers or trainees involved. Driving Psychology maintains an internal rhetoric of persuasion designed to empower drivers to overcome their spontaneous inner resistance to its principles. It is to be expected that drivers will experience feelings of resistance to the principles of Driving Psychology. A major reason is that Driving Psychology involves self-assessment and self-modification, both of which are painful to most people. There is a natural and predictable resistance to changing automatized habits in the sensorimotor domain. There is resistance to changing cognitive norms of evaluating and judging other drivers. There is resistance to giving up affective norms of hostility and self-assertiveness as a driver. Driving Psychology predicts the forms of the internal resistance and provides drivers with socio-cultural methods they can use for overcoming their own internal resistance to change.


Student Reports on Driving Psychology at the University of Hawaii

Commercial Drivers

Due to their high exposure driving (one hundred thousand miles per year or more), and to the size of the vehicle driven (eighty-thousand lbs. of load), commercial drivers have special problems that Driving Psychology tries to address. These problems are an outcome not only of driver behavior and decision making, but also of the socio-economic environment in which they work. These include economic accountability factors such as operating expenses, profitability, fleet size, and type of commodity being delivered. Economic factors put psychological pressure on commercial drivers and influence their risk taking behavior and driving orientation or philosophy.

Topics in Driving Psychology that relate to commercial drivers include:

Driving safety (training, knowledge, and judgment)
Driving philosophy (social responsibility and attitude)
Lifelong driver self-improvement activities (Driving Log and Quality Driving Circles)
Vehicle maintenance (record keeping and thoroughness)
Shared ownership ("owner-operator" and other incentives))
Company policies and employee communications (acceptance and support)
Law enforcement (obedience and preparation)
Home life and health of driver (satisfaction and cooperation)
Alcohol and drug consumption while driving (responsibility and conscience)
Government regulations (information and compliance)
Hours of service (sleep habits, biological clock, sleep deprivation)
Accident data and records
Driving Psychology attempts to understand and manage the conflict experienced by commercial drivers as they respond to schedules set by supervisors and dispatchers by trying to cut corners in maintenance, by disobeying traffic laws, and by taking illicit drugs to help them drive longer shifts. Commercial drivers come to rely on their stamina, operating skills, and quick reflexes in order to compensate for their harsh job demands. The drivers’ frustrations, tensions, and rationalizations interact with their skills, habits, beliefs, and perspectives to fashion an overall driving philosophy, orientation, or style that ultimately create the driver’s accident record and productivity level.

Data on truck drivers in the U.S. have identified the four main types of their accident involvement:

Rear end collisions
Improper right hand lane change
Run under collisions
Driving Psychology is informed by crash analysis reports that identify specific driver errors that need to be corrected through further training, especially the driver’s faulty assumptions about the distance, speed, or position of other cars and their impending action. Lane discipline and proper following distance are crucial preventive measures. For large trucks, entering turns at speed limit may be too high under certain conditions. Panic steering to avoid a car or to get back on the shoulder are major causes of rollover accidents. Driving for hours at high speeds can create "speed adaptation" so that drivers cannot rely on their sensation to gauge proper speed. Drowsiness causes 31% of all commercial driver fatal collisions. One in three trained drivers report nodding off during some of their trips. They need to be trained to recognize the symptoms of sleep deprivation and how to fight it.


Emotionally Intelligent Driver Personality Skills

Driver Competence Skills




Emotionally Intelligent


What would be your words here?
1. Focusing on self vs. blaming others or the situation "This traffic is impossibly slow. What’s wrong with these jerks. They’re driving like idiots."
"I’m feeling very impatient today. Everything seems to tick me off."  
2. Understanding how feelings and thoughts act together
"I’m angry, scared, outraged. How can they do this to me."
"I feel angry, scared, outraged when I think about what could have happened."
3. Realizing that anger is something we choose vs. thinking it is provoked "They make me so mad when they do that." "I make myself so mad when they do that."  
4. Being concerned about consequences vs. giving in to impulse "I just want to give this driver a piece of my mind. I just want him to know how I feel." "If I respond to this provocation I lose control over the situation. It’s not worth it."  
5. Showing respect for others and their rights vs. thinking only of oneself
"They better stay out of my way. I’m in no mood for putting up with them. Out of my way folks."

"I wish there was no traffic but it’s not up to me. These people have to get to their destination too."
6. Accepting traffic as collective team work vs. seeing it as individual competition "Driving is about getting ahead. I get a jolt out of beating a red light or finding the fastest lane. It’s me vs. everybody else." "I try to keep pace with the traffic realizing that my movements can slow others down—like switching lanes to try to get ahead."
7. Recognizing the diversity of drivers and their needs and styles vs. blaming them for what they choose to do "How can they be so stupid? They’re talking on the phone instead of paying attention to the road."
"I need to be extra careful around drivers using a hand held cellular phone since they may be distracted."
8. Practicing positive role models vs. negative "Come on, buddy, speed up or I’ll be on your tail. Go, go. What’s wrong with you. There’s no one ahead."
"This driver is going slower than my desires. Now I can practice the art of patience and respect for the next few minutes."
9.  Learning to inhibit the impulse to criticize by developing a sense of driving humor "I can’t stand all these idiots on the road. They slow down when they should speed up. They gawk, they crawl, anything but drive."
"I’m angry, I’m mad
Therefore I’ll act calm, I’ll smile and not compete.  Already I feel better.  Be my guest, enter ahead."
10. Taking driving seriously by becoming aware of one’s mistakes and correcting them "I’m an excellent driver, assertive and competent, with a clean accident record—just a few tickets here and there." "I monitor myself as a driver and keep a driving log of my mistakes. I think it’s important to include thoughts and feelings, not just the overt acts."  

Exhibit 1: Driving Psychology Materials in Media Communications

(from DrDriving’s Web site at http://DrDriving.org )

We have created the popular character of DrDriving as a socio-cultural tool for teaching Driving Psychology to the public. Dr. Leon James has been "DrDriving" in the media since 1996 and has appeared in more than one thousand interviews, news reports, radio broadcasts, and television appearances. The goal was to bring the socio-cultural message to safety officials and the public, all of who are alarmed by the aggressive driving problem. This message is that

  1. driving is a complex habit involving emotions, thoughts, and actions

  2. the way we drive is the result of our cultural norms and attitudes

  3. driving skills need to change over the lifetime of a driver due to new conditions and requirements, so there needs to be lifelong driver-self-improvement training activities

  4. driver education should start in the first grade (affective driving skills), and go on in intermediate school (cognitive driving skills), and high school (sensorimotor driving skills).

  5. after graduated licensing of new drivers, all drivers join voluntary groups called Quality Driving Circles or QDCs, in which they help and encourage each other in driving personality makeover exercises for self-modification ands self-improvement

  6. self-esteem and self-confidence as a driver is increased through self-improvement exercises

  7. aggressive and competitive driving is stressful, dangerous, depressing, and injurious to one’s health

  8. supportive and compassionate driving is smart, calming, pleasant, and safe

  9. collectivist models of traffic are preferable to individualistic models

  10. driving style is a socio-moral issue and reflects the moral development of the individual

  11. children learn aggressive, competitive, individualistic styles and norms of driving from their parents, other adults, and dramatized portrayals of driving behavior in the media

Social activism is part of driving self-reform for a society, and many social fronts are needed to be active such as the following organizations and planned activities in North America:

CARR – Children Against Road Rage (neighborhood or school-based)
YARR – Youth Against Road Rage (based in the workplace environment)
DrDriving—the Musical (staged for high school presentation nationally)\
DrDriving TEE Cards and Posters, CARRtoons, Reminder Cards
QDC Workbooks (for long term and cumulative self-modification programs)
CARaudioBooks (Driving Psychology tapes for drivers to listen to while driving)
CARRworkbook (activities for parents and teachers to do with children who are passengers)
DBB Ratings (Drivers Behaving Badly: keeping track and drawing attention to how driving behavior is portrayed in the media

Aggressive driving is not extreme any more; it has become a cultural norm on the highway. We're born into road rage; we inherit it from our parents. We acquire it automatically as children from adult drivers, cartoons, television, and commercials. Our culture condones the expression of hostility when we feel justified, indignant, stressed, or frustrated. Proof of these points may be found in this document.

At the same time drivers aren't trained for emotional intelligence to be able to manage both lifestyle stress and provocations in traffic.

The Formula for Road Rage:

by Dr. Leon James

more driver interactions (more cars, less space), greater diversity of drivers
cultural norms of disrespect condoning hostility
aggressive driving and road rage battles

The average number of driver interactions during an average commute of 30 mins. has steadily climbed due to traffic congestion. Thousands of interactions with hundreds of cars in a half-hour period create new challenges for drivers. Any one of these mini-exchanges can go wrong when the context is hostile. There are now 125 million drivers on the road every day in the U.S. They represent a tremendous diversity of competence, style, and purpose. The hundreds of drivers one encounters in a traffic half-hour puts us into contact with this diversity. It is unrealistic to expect homogeneity of driving styles. Drivers differ in gender, age, experience, familiarity with the road, physical health and condition, mood, and why they are on the road. Not all drivers are in a hurry. Not all drivers are alert. Not all drivers are competent. Not all drivers know how to coordinate with the rest of traffic. Not all drivers want to.

And so the 125 million drivers on the road every day need to learn how to drive with each other, how to get along, how to be more tolerant of each other's mistakes and varieties of mood and desire for cooperation. Driving Psychology gives drivers the psychological tools by which they can acquire skills of tolerance for one another. It takes compassion, fairness, rationality, and altruism. By developing these skills as drivers, we also become more valuable citizens and more worthy human beings.

The formula above shows that aggressive driving is the result of hostile norms in combination with more traffic. It is not more traffic by itself that causes aggressive driving.

Here is the rest of the formula:

more driver interactions (more cars, less space), greater diversity of drivers
cultural norms of respect promoting civility and community
supportive, safe, and sane driving

Definition of Road Rage:

the habit of aggressive driving as a permanent style of behaving behind the wheel. There are three types:

1. Verbal Road Rage: yelling, cussing, gesturing, honking, insulting
2. Quiet Road Rage: complaining, rushing, competing, resisting
3. Epic Road Rage: cutting off, blocking, chasing, fighting, shooting

Lacking in emotional intelligence training, drivers operate on the false "trigger theory" of anger:

"I can't help it when they provoke me. Besides, they're doing something wrong. I can't just sit back and take it."

This attitude involves righteous indignation that gives us permission to retaliate because we feel wronged. It's easy to "lose it" when a "hot spot" is stepped on, and out comes the unthinking gesture, the uncontrolled temper, the comic book fantasies of punishment and mayhem.

Anatomy of Road Rage

Step 1: Provocation and Escalation

It takes two to make a fight. Don't respond. Don't engage. Don't up the ante. Swallow your pride. Choose "the road less traveled."

Containment Techniques:

Count to 10.

  • Make animal sounds
    (suggestion by LauraLee Carman in her book Rainbows In My Soup)
  • Act as-if you're not affected.
  • Give yourself pep talks.

Step 2: Recovery and Remedy

If you fall into a hostile exchange, know how to back out, reverse, back pedal. You need to do damage control.

Containment Techniques:

Refrain from aggravating things.
Come out swinging positive. Apologize. See it from their side as well, not just your own.
Think supportive (vs. combative).
Acts of Declaration of Road Rage War
Honking at someone.
Giving an offensive hand gesture.
Yelling at someone or swearing.
Revving your engine to indicate displeasure.
Shining your high beams in retaliation.
Deliberately cutting someone off.
Braking suddenly to punish a tailgater.
Blocking a lane.
Emotional Intelligence Exercises
or How Not to Be Hostile When Stressed and Upset

Long Term Solution:

1. Self-witnessing behind the wheel:

Pretend you're giving a play-by-play broadcast of your driving--what you're doing, thinking, and feeling. Speak all your thoughts out loud. This will let you be more aware of your driving personality.

2. Shrinking Your Emotional Territory:

Talk to yourself. Argue with yourself. What is it that you really care about? Examine your assumptions, your anger theory, your driving philosophy.

3. Acting As-If

Pretend you're a supportive driver even when you feel like being competitive and aggressive. When you feel like yelling, sing instead--or make funny animal sounds in the car. By pretending to be an Aloha spirit driver, you discover you like it--cool-headed, hassle-free driving. All right!

Three Levels of Emotional Intelligence as a Driver

  1. Oppositional Driving (Aggressive Driving; Road Rage Habit)
  2. Defensive Driving (Be on guard. Assume the worst.)
  3. Supportive Driving (Act tolerant. Be forgiving. Be helpful.)

Defensive driving is a good strategy, but you can't let defensive driving slide into aggressive driving. The best defense is not a good offense, in this case. Factors that allow defensive driving to become oppositional: rushing mania (getting there as fast as possible) righteous indignation (They deserve to be punished) comic book persona (The Avenger, Jekyl & Hyde, Mad Max) culture that condones hostility (cartoons, commercials, movies)

See alsoGetting a grip on anger  ||  My Congressional Testimony ||  Road Rage ||  More...

Three Levels of Emotional Intelligence as a Driver

  1. Oppositional Driving (Aggressive Driving; Road Rage Habit)
  2. Defensive Driving (Be on guard. Assume the worst.)
  3. Supportive Driving (Act tolerant. Be forgiving. Be helpful.)


From DrDriving's Road Rage Survey


We take these results to be evidence that aggressive driving is a cultural norm that we acquire from parents and the media. These anti-social practices behind the wheel have become a tradition. Children imbibe them, boys and girls each in their own ways, suitable to their gender and age. Our driver education begins as infants while riding in cars driven by adults who yell, curse, swear, make insulting gestures, break driving regulations like going through red light or doing some serious speeding. Everyone of these aggressive and hostile behaviors is documented in this national survey of 1095 drivers.

The culturally transmitted norms of aggressive driving are not unitary and rigid, but vary demographically through the population. Drivers behave badly in a variety of ways, and these varieties are influenced by geographic state and type of car. Numerous statistically significant results are presented in dozens of graphs and tables throughout this document so that everyone can examine the pattern of relationships between specific types of aggressive behaviors in relation to age of drivers, their gender, the type of car they drive, and the state they drive in.

As a society, therefore, we must recognize that cultural transmission and tradition are responsible factors in aggressive driving, and contribute to it. Therefore cultural techniques of re-education are needed to reverse the generational trend. We can collect all sorts of advice and hints for how to stop the increase in aggressive driving (see our large collection here, culled from the Web). If this trend is not reversed, we can expect aggressive driving to increase, despite the more extensive law enforcement and electronic 'surveillance' initiatives that are being instituted throughout the country. The full solution or elimination of this problem lies in consciously and deliberately reversing the cultural tradition that allows us to express hostility behind the wheel (see here for a list of the top 100 complaints drivers have about one another). It's obvious that feelings run very intense and to solve this problem is easier said than done. In my role as DrDriving, I have been providing various types of self-management tools and socially dynamic methods of motivating drivers to accept the idea of Lifelong Driver Education as a matter of social responsibility, as outlined above in this document. The overall goal of driver education must be explicitly stated in positive terms, rather than merely negative. The goal must be to evolve a cultural norm for driving that can be called Supportive Driving, in opposition to Aggressive Driving. Oddly enough, research by psychologists has remained limited to a few problems--see my large bibliography of driving research here.

We need to understand the difference between these two opposing driving styles and philosophies. Car society is now beginning its second century. For the first century society was able to license drivers through minimal training and examination, and this approach worked for a while, but things started braking down in the 1950s when more and more drivers began to drive the fast moving vehicles placed in their hands. The death rate climbed to above 50,000 for many years. It was brought down to its current 40,000 fatalities a year through better car design, better road engineering, more safety laws, better paramedical services. Still, 40,000 fatalities year after year turns the highways into war zones (about 50,000 American fatalities were incurred in the entire six-year Vietnam war). Add to this amazing carnage, 5 million crashes with enormous suffering and disruption to lives for millions, and an economic cost of 200 billion per year, and you begin to realize that we are having an enormously serious problem to fix. The goal: to turn the 177 million drivers in this nation (the number is climbing...) into Supportive Drivers. Since this philosophy is contrary to tradition, habit, and convenience we are faced with people's massive opposition to their self-transformation. Drivers have their own theory as to why drivers makes them mad. These popular but non-adaptive attitudes and rationalizations must be abandoned in favor of emotionally more intelligent alternatives.

We have been studying this resistance to driver self-improvement for two decades, first in ourselves, then with other drivers as well. A necessary departing strategy had to be the identification of aggressive behaviors by drivers. This led to a taxonomy or inventory of hundreds of driving behaviors in three areas of the driver's habits: affective (the driver's attitudes, motives, and moral feelings), cognitive (the driver's emotional intelligence and judgment), and sensorimotor (the driver's vehicle manipulation (including gestures and verbalizations). We also used this taxonomy of driver behaviors to catalogue the complaints drivers have about one another. You can get the details by examining the various links we provided for each topic in the table above outlining the details of lifelong driver education. We have also used this approach in a video course for driver re-education based on these same objectives.

See this article for more details

Driving Covenant

by Dr. Leon James

The two sides of this Driving Covenant shows where we are and where we must be headed as an entire generation of 177 million drivers.


Transforming Ourselves from a Pack of Aggressive Drivers to a Community of Supportive Drivers
emotional helplessness as a driver
(counterproductive driving behaviors)
emotional competence as a driver
(productive driving behaviors)
  • feeling coerced by another driver's provocation

  • being intolerant of drivers who fall short of one's own standards

  • being blind to one's own aggressiveness or provocative behaviors

  • believing one's own false suspicions about other drivers

  • feeling justified in punishing other drivers for the sake of righting the wrong they commit

  • maintaining a hostile attitude on highways that is hurtful to society and community

  • exercising choices as to how we express our feelings

  • managing disruptive emotions or impulses

  • staying composed or calm in the face of provocation

  • thinking clearly under emergency conditions

  • learning de-escalating skills to back out of fights

  • accepting the driving issue as a character issue or a moral one

  • accepting the idea of lifelong driver self-improvement

The enormous driving challenge that is facing our society today can become an opportunity for strengthening our community and evolving more humane and compassionate relations with each other. Instead of mutual antagonism, we will feel and express mutual support. Driving can increase our humanity by forcing us to make peace on our highways and streets and parking lots. We must, or else we will see an increase of hostile behavior in public places, as people are now beginning to talk about parking lot rage, pedestrian rage, bicyclists rage, air rage, the millennium rage, neighbor rage, and so on. Let's not go that route! And yet more and more people will be tempted to slide into these dangers forms of behaviors due to social imitation and emotional contagion.

Reporters often ask us this question: What solutions do we have for the aggressive driving problem? As we have outlined above, the Threestep Program specifies the problem and the solution. Step 1 is "A" for Acknowledge--that is, as a driver I must acknowledge that I exhibit aggressive behaviors, either overtly or internally, or both. This is a big step for most drivers. To make this first step means that you are confessing to your bad driving behaviors and that you're giving up the reputation you have with yourself as being a good driver ("I'm an excellent driver" comes to the lips of two out of three drivers you ask--see here). DrDriving was intensely "flamed" (polemical attacks in electronic newsgroups) when he participated in the public electronic forum discussions among drivers who vehemently criticized "stupid" drivers for their seemingly lack of consideration for other drivers--see the detailed analysis in these students' reports).

DrDrving's point in those messages to those drivers was that we all make mistakes and that we have different standards and skills--therefore we've got to be more tolerant of these people instead of becoming more aggressive against them. For example, there are more elderly people who drive (and this is going to increase markedly as the baby boomers get into the senior group, we are told by the experts). Today there are more handicapped people who drive, and they legitimately do so under the protection of the law. More people who are on medications or have some temporary physical problem (pain, itch, cramp, ache, gas, stomach reflux, nervous tremors, heart arrhythmia--all medical condition that come on suddenly. With 125 million on the road you can see that hundreds of thousands of drivers are out there every day under some kind of unavoidable handicap. There are more tourists and strangers around who don't know the local customs.

These drivers did not wish to hear the message that it's not rational to blame drivers who appear to be doing something "stupid" due to their handicap. Nor is it compassionate, is it. Nor is it legal to retaliate with aggressive acts such as they were fantasizing doing (for the fun of it), or joking about doing. So DrDriving was hooted out of the gallery, so to speak. There was tremendous resistance, and personal attacks on him, when he argued that Princess Diana's tragic crash in the tunnel in Paris was a case of aggressive driving (or "road rage") by the driver who took enormous and very bad risks as a result his emotional inability to deal with the Paparasize="3i pursuit in a calmer and safer manner. This would be obvious to any safety or security personnel. We kept copies of these exchanges as a way of increasing awareness that our current societal driving philosophy--the driving norm--is shocking and harmful. To witness yourself the extreme abuse drivers heap on one another, see these student reports. You can also look at unanalyzed files of these vehement self-portrayals--here.

Attacks of drivers on one another are expressions of a national driving philosophy that is hostile and victimizing. It is the source of the tremendous resistance to driving reform that exists in our society, and the dedicated effort it will take to re-educate the 125 million drivers out on the road of our nation every day, who are crashing into each other 5 million times every year, killing 40,000, and producing a cost factor of 150 billion dollars every year, besides the unmeasurable spiritual toll in human suffering. This first of the three steps is the most difficult--and yet, I've seen many drivers take this step, including myself.

The second step is a "W" for Witnessing one's behaviors behind the wheel. I pioneered the self-witnessing method in driving psychology about 20 years ago when I started carrying a tape recorder in my car and speaking my thoughts out loud. I listened to those tapes, I transcribed many of them (here is one), and I had hundreds of students in traffic psychology do the same at the University of Hawaii (you can see their reports on Driving Personality Makeovers here). The conclusion: we all have aggressive thoughts and feelings behind the wheel, even violent ones, as you can see from the results in this survey regarding enjoying fantasies of violence. I immediately called attention to this symptom as a mental health issue for the nation. I quickly realized that driving is a bundle of habits made up of dozens of identifiable behaviors. Some of these behaviors were affective (e.g., enjoying fantasies of violence about another driver--the enjoyment is affective, it is a feeling). Some of the behaviors are cognitive (e.g., thinking of a driver as stupid for not turning off their signal indicator). And finally, some of the behaviors are sensorimotor (e.g., tailgating or driving through a red light). There were so many behaviors making up what we call "driving" that it's no wonder drivers have no clue of themselves as drivers (only illusions about themselves behind the wheel). So this second step is essential because driving is made of so many little habits that we need to become a witness to ourselves as drivers. This is what I call "self-witnessing."

Driving self-reformation can only occur gradually because it must be done one by one, to each of the several dozen major driving behaviors. This is step 3: "M" for Modify your behavior one at a time. Each behavior you witness yourself doing that is bad, must be re-educated by observation and reinforcement, that is, serious and honest practice, ride after ride, relapse after relapse, never giving up. You can't correct faults you don't know you have. This is why it's essential to do self-witnessing on a regular basis using a variety of methods.


The Human Factors Field Research Vehicle

FHWA Takes Its Show On The Road

by Doug Rekenthaler Jr.


The Human Factors Field Research Vehicle is a four-door 1995 Pontiac Bonneville packed with about 360 kilograms (800 pounds) of computers, sensors, display panels, video cameras and recoreders, microphones, and other technologies to measure older driver performance in real-world driving situations.

Fortunately, an automated navigation system in your dashboard, using Global Positioning System (GPS) data from satellites, is delivering turn-by-turn instructions to guide you to the hospital. Notice of an accident ahead prompts you to ask the onboard navigation system for an alternate route, and within seconds, it has established a new route for your journey. As the onboard computer instructs you to turn right at the next intersection, a collision-avoidance monitor alerts you that the confused teenager in front of you is braking hard for no discernible reason. Fortunately, a vision enhancement system is making it much easier to read the dimly-lit street signs and lane markers.

The good news is that you reach the hospital quickly and discover that your child is not seriously injured. The bad news is that it’s not the year 2000 yet, and the technology that safely delivered you to the hospital isn’t quite ready to become “standard equipment” on automobiles.

But, if the engineers at the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center (TFHRC) have their way, these technologies soon will make driving an easier, more efficient, and — most importantly — a safer means of transportation.

The Research Vehicle In a laboratory at TFHRC, a handful of human factors engineers/research psychologists are conducting a variety of experiments that they hope will one day fundamentally alter the way people drive. By studying individual drivers and the way they react to a number of external and internal stimuli, FHWA plans to develop and evaluate new technology that facilitates the driving experience.

Part of this process is the Human Factors Field Research Vehicle (HFFRV), a four-door 1995 Pontiac Bonneville packed with computers, sensors, LCD (liquid crystal display) panels, video cameras and recorders, microphones, and assorted other technologies. Known euphemistically both as the “Veda car,” after the company that outfitted it for FHWA, and “RealSim” by the engineers who work with it, HFFRV is just one of four laboratories in FHWA’s Human Factors Program. The others are a sign simulator; a part-task driving simulator; and a fully interactive, high-fidelity highway driving simulator.

A researcher rides in the back seat to observe driver reactions and to monitor displays.

As its name denotes, RealSim is a test vehicle that permits FHWA engineers to take laboratory experiments to the field for real-world testing. Comparisons can then be made between data collected in the simulators and actual driver responses in real-world driving conditions.

“Simulators are always going to be limited to some extent by their inability to incorporate the incredible variety of real-world conditions,” says Spencer James, a research psychologist working on the project. “Even the very best simulators can’t account for all of the things we find in the real world — all the distractions and events that catch the attention of the driver.”


Making the Car Smarter, the Driver Safer “The modern driving experience is vastly different from what it was even 10 years ago,” said Kathryn Wochinger, a research psychologist with Science Applications International Corp., which is working with FHWA on the RealSim project. “You’ve got enormous congestion, frustrated drivers, often-times poor signage, and a rapidly growing population of elderly drivers who have special needs.”

The trick, according to Wochinger, is to provide drivers with the right amount of information, at the right time, and in the proper presentation mode.

“We want to reduce congestion and improve efficiency, but not at the risk of compromising safety,” she said. “The key is to do all three things at the same time.”

But that is easier said than done. For example, an elderly driver is likely to have slower reaction speeds to warning sensors. But he or she is also apt to be more easily alarmed or confused by a sudden infusion of information. Younger drivers, on the other hand, are prone to overconfidence and might find themselves obsessed with dashboard instrumentation to the detriment of their own safety.

“You don’t want the guy crashing into the car in front of him while he’s marveling at the technology. It kind of defeats the purpose,” James said.

“Reaction times vary considerably from one age group to another,” Wochinger said. “Ultimately, what we are trying to do is create systems that improve all drivers’ abilities. If we can do that, we can reduce congestion on the roads and improve safety.”

To examine these and other issues, RealSim has been outfitted with a host of commercial off-the-shelf technology designed to study driver habits. Onboard equipment includes five personal 486 computers, which power a variety of components, including the experimenter’s station system (ESS), data-acquisition system (DAS), driver response panel (DRP), video data-acquisition system (VAS), in-vehicle display and control systems (IDCS), navigation/map system (N/MS), and a lane-tracking system.

To one degree or another, all of this equipment allows researchers to collect a wide variety of data, including lane deviation, speed, the position of the automobile via GPS, acceleration/deceleration rates, verbal and manual driver responses, and driver physiology - for example, tracking the driver’s eyes to determine what he or she is observing and doing while certain road and other real-world conditions are being encountered.

Specific areas of research include: Determining a driver’s ability to recognize and comprehend verbal cues and various visual icons on dashboard displays. Assessing the best position for in-vehicle display data, including head-up or in-dashboard displays. Measuring a driver’s acceptance and use of in-vehicle safety warning systems. Determining the degree to which in-vehicle information systems result in information overload to the driver. Evaluating different instrument layouts based on driver preferences and requirements.


From the back seat of the vehicle, the experimenter uses the ESS work station (which includes a flat-panel VGA monitor, keyboard and mouse, video monitor, and video switch) to run various tests as RealSim travels Northern Virginia’s roads. This in-vehicle work station is not to be confused with the off-vehicle station, which is run out of the TFHRC Human Factors Laboratory. Using an “events list” that details each action to be taken during the test, various scenarios are programmed and then, for comparison purposes, reloaded (using a custom programming language) into the in-vehicle ESS for real-world tests. Programmable events are based on simple algorithms — for example, “If speed exceeds 55 miles per hour [90 kilometers per hour] at location X, initiate audio.”

In-Vehicle Display System This system employs the hardware and software to display information on the five LCD panels in the reconfigurable display. It comprises three distinct subsystems: displays, instrument panel graphics, and a navigation/map system. The LCD panels can be used to display a variety of information in graphic or symbolic form, including standard data - speed, fuel, temperature - and data related to intelligent transportation systems - collision warning, in-vehicle signing, turn-by-turn routing.

Auditory information is generated via digital voice or prerecorded messages through the ESS work station in the back seat, and the data is saved to an audio file that can be accessed and played back for postexperiment studies. Video and audio displays can be triggered in a variety of ways, including latitude/longitude positions (via GPS), odometer readings, and speed. Speakers are located behind the driver’s seat.

The displays employ a PC-based graphics-generation software and special graphics-display buffer boards. Real-time data from the vehicle is used to trigger symbolic displays, which are developed via Avionics Visual Instrument Development Station (AVIDS) software. For example, the speedometer symbology is driven by the speed data contained on the vehicle’s data bus.

The trunk of the Human Factors Field Research Vehicle is also packed with testing and recording equipment.


Data-Acquisition System This system has three subsystems: the driver response panel, the computer data-acquisition system, and the video data-acquisition system. These systems record human and vehicle performance data, including eye/head movement, lane tracking, and audio. All of the recorded data is time-stamped for post-processing correlation. The heart of DAS is the five shared memory cards that create a unified hardware communications scheme. The cards provide memory for the application program to read from and write to, and all five cards are instantly updated when one of the values is changed. Recorded data is archived to a removable hard disk for in-house analysis.

The driver response panel is located between the right arm rest and the transmission shift, and it contains one large push-button momentary switch, three small push-button momentary switches, three analog linear potentiometers, and two five-position rotary switches. Data is also collected from the driver via eight momentary push buttons mounted on the left and right of the steering wheel. All of the aforementioned buttons and switches can measure a driver’s state of awareness and workload while operating the vehicle.

The computer data-acquisition system uses 16 analog input channels to register driver and vehicle response times. Standard sensors register a number of variables, including accelerator position, brake-force pressure, steering wheel position, fuel level, water temperature, oil pressure, three driver-response potentiometers, and a three-channel accelerometer.

The video data-acquisition system employs six cameras: one each mounted on the trunk for right and left lane tracking, one in the dash and another above the dash for tracking driver eye and head movement, and two behind the driver for capturing window views. All video data is captured on six Hi-8 videotape recorders located in the trunk. The video signals are routed through a vertical interval time code generator, which synchronizes time and position information onto each video frame for postexperimental analysis.


“It’s important to remember that we’re not trying to create in-vehicle technology that will replace the driver’s actions,” Wochinger said. “We’re developing technology to complement his abilities — to make it easier to read those signs; to find the quickest, most efficient route to a destination; to avoid collisions; to remain in his own lane. These are all important efforts because they all contribute to more efficient transportation, less congestion, and safer roads.”

The Bonneville’s engine starts; the LCD panels light up; and RealSim emerges from its home at TFHRC for another road trip. It’s a trip the researchers hope will one day make all our lives easier and safer.

Doug Rekenthaler Jr. is a freelance writer and editor. His experiences as a writer and editor include cub reporter covering Capitol Hill and Pentagon news beats; managing editor responsible for 12 newsletters covering a wide array of communications technologies; founder of the multimedia industry’s first daily fax news service; and corporate communications manager for America Online Inc., the largest commercial online service in the world.

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