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Federal Highway Administration Research and Technology
Coordinating, Developing, and Delivering Highway Transportation Innovations

This report is an archived publication and may contain dated technical, contact, and link information
Publication Number: FHWA-RD-96-147
Date: October 1997

Development of Human Factors Guidelines for Advanced Traveler Information Systems and Commerical Vehicle Operations: Components of the Intelligent Transportation Systems: Designs Alternatives for In-Vehicle Information Displays



This experiment examined the effect of ATIS message characteristics and availability of ATIS and roadway information on driving safety and compliance. ATIS warning messages were presented to drivers using a low–fidelity automotive simulator equipped with an easily reconfigurable ATIS. The vehicle was equipped so that ATIS messages could be presented visually, through liquid crystal display (LCD) panels, or auditorially through speakers. The visual scene of the simulation could also be controlled to present drivers with roadway information in a form similar to the changeable–message signs found on many highways.

Driving safety and compliance with warning messages were estimated directly with several measures. In addition, several intervening variables were measured to provide a deeper understanding of cognitive processes that mediate the effect of ATIS design characteristics on driver behavior, given particular driver and roadway characteristics.







Sixteen male and sixteen female subjects participated in this experiment for a total of 32 subjects. Eight male and eight female subjects were under the age of 30, with ages ranging from 18 to 29 (mean (M) = 22.4, standard deviation (SD) = 3.3). Eight male and eight female subjects were over the age of 64, with ages ranging from 66 to 83 (M = 74.4, SD = 4.7). All subjects had a valid driver's license, drove at least twice per week, and had no problems with motion sickness. Younger drivers were recruited from the University of Washington, while older drivers were recruited from local church, volunteer, and retirement groups. Each driver was paid $5 per hour, for approximately 3 hours of research time.





Driver behavior was investigated using the Battelle Automobile Simulator (BAS). The major components of the simulator include: (1) the automobile test buck, (2) the simulation software, and (3) the simulated ATIS.


Automobile Test Buck

The buck was constructed using a 1986 Ford Merkur XR4Ti automobile. The original side and top body work, from 12 in (30.5 cm) in front of the firewall to 20 in (50.8 cm) behind the driver's seat, have been maintained to preserve the feel of a real automobile. The dash of the automobile has been modified to allow multiple configurations, including combinations of active matrix LCD touchscreens and electroluminescent (EL) displays, and a completely analog instrument panel. The configuration used in this experiment replaced the standard instrument panel with electroluminescent displays. A small fan was also included in the instrument panel to provide air circulation to the driver. The steering column is that of the Merkur with no modifications. The steering wheel has been modified to include a push–button switch on each side of the wheel at approximately 130 and 240 degrees. The steering shaft is also connected to a torque motor that produces accurate roadway feedback to the driver. Interior lights are located in the center of the vehicle's roof near the front windshield and can be aimed by the driver as needed. The rear of the vehicle is open to allow access to the rear speakers. Both doors are operational and have side–view mirrors. The buck also has adjustable driver and passenger seats.

The front "windshield" is completely enclosed. The left side of the windshield houses a 20–in (50.8–cm) MultiSync color monitor providing a simulated roadway display for the various driving scenarios. The monitor is covered with a black wooden hood and the right side of the windshield is covered with a black piece of plastic to reduce the ambient background lighting.


Simulation Software

A closed–loop, low–fidelity driving simulator developed by Systems Technology, Inc. (STI) (Version 8.01) was used for the experiment. Running on an IBM–compatible computer, the simulator produced visual scenes and sound relevant to driving. The fully interactive STI simulator includes the following features: five–speed automatic transmission, variable vehicle dynamics, simulated road noise (engine and drive train), tire squeal to signal loss of control on high–speed turns, and wire–framed rendering of displayed objects. The simulation updates visual scenes at approximately 10 to 20 Hz, providing relatively smooth apparent motion. The STI software allows for full driver interaction; the driver is able to steer, change lanes, accelerate, and brake. For this experiment, the vehicle dynamics were adjusted to represent a typical passenger vehicle.


Simulated ATIS

The BAS has a range of display alternatives to simulate many potential ATIS designs. Messages were displayed on one of two in–vehicle EL displays or auditorially through a speaker system. The viewing area of the EL display was 4.8 in (12.2 cm) by 7.0 in (17.8 cm). Messages can also be transmitted through a pair of speakers located behind the driver on either side of the vehicle.

In addition, BAS has the capability to present various questions to the drivers. This capability was used to collect situational awareness (SA) measures and subjective estimates, such as trust and self–confidence. Questions were displayed on a 9.4 inch (23.9 cm) diagonal Active Matrix Color LCD display. This display was centered on the transmission channel of the vehicle. The LCD display was a touchscreen and so subjects could answer questions by making selections from choices presented on the display. The touchscreen used resistive technology with a serial controller. The displays were driven by a 486–based computer that was interlinked with the simulation computer using a digital input/output card.





The experiment was a 2x2x2x2x2x4 mixed factorial design. Table 2 shows the within–subjects variables distributed in a Latin square design. The experiment considered three dimensions of ATIS design: (1) display location (centralized versus distributed), which was a between–subjects variable, (2) message style of ATIS information (command versus notification), which was a within–subjects variable, and (3) mode of presentation (auditory versus visual), which was a within–subjects variable. The order of these variables was counterbalanced in a Latin square design. Each row in table 2 represents the experimental conditions that a driver experiences. Each driver experiences 16 scenarios and, during each scenario, 4 roadway events occur. The letters and numbers represent levels of independent variables.


Table 2. The combination of events within–subjects variables in a Latin square design.

Scenario 1–4 Scenario 5–8 Scenario 9–12 Scenario 13–16
Tc1234 Tn1234 An1234 Ac1234
Tn1234 Tc1234 Ac1234 An1234
An1234 Ac1234 Tn1234 Tc1234
Ac1234 An1234 Tc1234 Tn1234
T = Text display modality; A = Auditory display modality; c = Command message style; n = Notification message style;

1 = ATIS and roadway information; 2 = Only ATIS information; 3 = Only roadway information; 4 = Neither roadway nor ATIS information.


Each line represents a series of 16 scenarios with each scenario representing a separate experimental condition. A scenario is defined as a sequence of four driving events lasting approximately 6 min. A driving event is defined as a circumstance that requires a driver decision and action. When ATIS information is available, drivers are notified of the upcoming events by ATIS warning messages. Each subject experienced 16 scenarios. The design was constructed so that each set of 16 scenarios was experienced by 4 subjects: 1 young male, 1 older male, 1 young female, and 1 older female. This pattern of experimental conditions was replicated so that 16 drivers experienced the scenarios in table 2 with a centralized display and 16 drivers experienced these conditions with a distributed display.


Independent Variables

Table 3 summarizes the independent variables examined in this experiment. The independent variables included the availability of roadway and ATIS information, display location, message style, display modality, and driver age. The availability of information was a within–subjects variable with four different levels: (1) ATIS and roadway information, (2) ATIS information only, (3) roadway information only, and (4) neither. Roadway information was presented as a changeable–message sign in a style that matches most standard warning signs. The style of all the roadway signs is similar to the notification style for the ATIS messages. During a scenario with the information availability condition "ATIS and roadway information," drivers receive four ATIS messages and see four changeable–message signs, one for each roadway event they encounter. During the "ATIS only" condition, drivers receive four ATIS messages and see only one changeable–message sign. During the "Roadway only" condition, drivers receive only one ATIS message and see four changeable–message signs. During the "Neither" condition, drivers receive only one ATIS message and see only one changeable–message sign. In the "Neither" condition, drivers encounter two events without any warning, they receive an ATIS message for one, and they see a changeable–message sign for the remaining event. This was done to mimic the fact that a completely unreliable ATIS or road–sign system is not realistic. Table 3 summarizes the independent variables.


Table 3. Independent variables included in the experiment.

Variable Type Levels
Age Between Under 30, 65 and over
Gender Between Male, Female
Display Location Between Centralized, Distributed
Message Style Within Command, Notification
Message Modality Within Visual Text, Auditory
Information Availability Within Both ATIS and Roadway, ATIS only, Roadway only, and Neither


For each scenario, drivers experienced a random selection of four of the events shown in table 3. Table 4 shows the ATIS warnings for each of six different events. Depending on the experimental condition, drivers received a message from table 1 either as a command or as a notification message, formatted as an auditory or visual warning.


Table 4. ATIS warnings for each of six different events.

Event ATIS Messages
1. Curve

Reduce speed (Command)

Curve ahead (Notification)

2. Crosswalk

Reduce speed (Command)

Pedestrian crossing (Notification)

3. Icy roadway

Reduce speed (Command)

Icy roadway (Notification)

4. Road construction

Merge left (Command)

Lane closed for construction (Notification)

5. Accident in lane

Merge left (Command)

Lane blocked by accident (Notification)

6. High-Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lane

Merge left (Command)

HOV lane ahead (Notification)


Dependent Variables

This experiment collected data on two types of dependent measures. One type included direct measures of driving safety and compliance with warnings. The other type included intervening variables that may illuminate the cognitive processes that influence the direct measures of compliance and driving performance. The intervening dependent variables measured drivers' attitudes, situational awareness, and message acknowledgment.

Drivers' attitudes were measured by subjective ratings given at the end of each scenario. Subjective scales measured drivers' attitudes, including: (1) trust in the ATIS system to identify and notify them of roadway events and hazards, (2) self–confidence in their ability to accurately identify roadway conditions and hazards, (3) mental effort, (4) physical effort, and (5) perceived driving performance. Mental and physical effort were included to estimate the influence of display characteristics on driver workload. The scales were presented on a touchscreen display at the end of each 6–min trial.

Subjects' situational awareness was measured once during each scenario using the Situation Awareness Global Assessment Technique (SAGAT) (Endsley, 1995a). Situation awareness has been defined by Endsley (1995a, p. 36) as "the perception of the elements in the environment within a volume of time and space, the comprehension of their meaning, and the projection of their status in the near future." SAGAT has been studied extensively and has proven to be a valid and effective measure of SA (Endsley, 1995b). Using this technique, the simulation was "frozen" while the subjects responded to the questions. Examples of questions include: "What is your current speed?," "What product was the last billboard advertising?," "In the next 30 seconds, which action will you perform?" For each question, the drivers' were given two choices from which to select their answer (forced choice). Four questions were randomly drawn for each query from a pool of 14 questions (see appendix C for a complete list). After each question, subjects rated their confidence in their answer on a 0–100 scale. Each situation awareness query contained four questions and was presented once in each 6–min trial.

Drivers were asked to acknowledge each ATIS and roadway warning by pressing a steering–wheel button. Drivers used the button on one side of the steering wheel to acknowledge ATIS messages and the button on the other side to acknowledge roadway signs. The acknowledgment latency and accuracy were measured to estimate the focus of the drivers' attention. If drivers focus attention on the ATIS, then acknowledgment latency and accuracy should favor the ATIS acknowledgment. The acknowledgment side was counterbalanced to guard against any right/left bias. To avoid learning effects, acknowledgment side was introduced as a between–subjects variable.

Measures of driving safety included:

  • Lane position (root mean square (RMS) deviation from lane and center line).
  • Speed control (RMS speed).
  • Number of crashes per hour.
  • Use of turn signals.

These measures began 5 s before the time that the drivers received the ATIS message or roadway information and lasted until 5 s after the event had ended. For driving performance, lane position, speed, brake and accelerator actuation, turn–signal actuation, steering–wheel use, and crashes were all collected during this time. The purpose of collecting these data was to determine how ATIS messages might distract from the primary task of driving.

For this study, warning compliance has been defined as the degree to which drivers correctly respond to messages. For example, drivers who move to the left lane after a message instructing them to merge left would have a higher level of compliance compared to a driver who fails to comply with the message and stays in the right lane. Similarly, if a driver slows from 45 to 25 mi/h (72.4 to 40.2 km/h), compliance would be greater than one who remains at 45 mi/h (72.4 km/h). Complete compliance with the warning is rated at 100 percent. It is possible to be more than 100 percent compliant, such as when a driver swerves to the far side of the left lane to avoid an accident in the right lane.

Figure 3 shows several measures of compliance. The analysis addressed three measures of compliance. The first measure is the time to 10 percent of maximum compliance, shown on the left side of figure 3. The second measure reflects how quickly compliance increases and is labeled rise time. Rise time is the time it takes compliance to change from 10 percent of maximum compliance to 90 percent of maximum compliance. The third measure of compliance, known as integrated compliance, represents the area under the curve in figure 3. It is calculated by numerically integrating the level of compliance from the onset of the message to the end of the event.


A hypothetical trace of a driver's compliance with a warning message



Figure 4 shows the experimental protocol. When subjects first arrived, they were briefed on what they would be asked to do and were then asked to sign an informed consent form if they chose to participate. Subjects were then given a brief pre–test that evaluated their general attitudes toward technology. Following the pre–test, drivers were trained on the experimental procedures. To ensure that the drivers understood the instructions, they were given a short test. The experimenter reviewed any questions that were answered incorrectly. During the training, drivers were told to drive normally and obey speed limits. They were also instructed to respond to ATIS and roadway warnings by pressing the appropriate steering–wheel buttons. Subjects who failed to respond accurately to more than 25 percent of the events repeated the training scenario. If after two repetitions they were not able to respond accurately, they were paid and escorted out of the laboratory.


The timeline of the experiment showing the distribution of driving activity


The training scenario was followed by four 30–min "blocks" composed of four 6–min scenarios and a short break. This generated data for a total of sixteen 6–min scenarios. Each 6–min scenario contained four main driving events. These events included: disabled vehicles, pedestrian zones, high–occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, accidents, and construction zones. Drivers experienced a random selection of four of these events during each 6–min scenario.

During each scenario, the subjects were in control of steering, acceleration, and braking. Since the subjects were in complete control of the vehicle during the scenarios, the scenario length varied slightly depending on the driver. In each scenario, ATIS and roadway information was presented to alert drivers to each of the four roadway events. Other roadway characteristics that drivers might typically see while driving (traffic lights, pedestrians, billboards, etc.) were also displayed. Drivers also faced typical driving hazards. They faced oncoming traffic and passing traffic. As they drove in the right lane of a two–lane rural road, cars approached and passed in the left lane.

Two sets of questions were administered during each scenario. One set, concerning drivers' situational awareness, was presented randomly during one of the four roadway events and the other set, containing subjective measures of the drivers' experiences, was presented at the end of each scenario. After completing the 16 scenarios, the subjects were given a post–test identical to the pre–test that evaluated subjects' attitudes toward technology. Subjects were then debriefed, paid for their participation, and escorted out of the laboratory.






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