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The Possible Effects of Commercial Electronic Variable Message Signs (CEVMS) on Driver Attention and Distraction

4.0 Research Strategies

To successfully investigate the potential safety effects of CEVMS, the key factors (independent variables) and key measures (dependent variables) described in the previous section need to be selected, combined, and integrated into an effective research strategy. There are a number of possible research strategies that could address the basic research question. The list of recommended research strategies shown below lists eight key research approaches that might be considered. This list was generated from a more comprehensive and detailed analysis of the research strategies which might be of interest. This comprehensive analysis of research strategies was divided into six major groups (see table 3 in appendix A). The first group focuses on observing or counting actual motor vehicle crashes as they might occur or have occurred in the field. This field portion includes retrospective crash data base studies. The second group entails observing motor vehicle crashes as they might occur in a driving simulator. The third group involves observing safety surrogate measures as they might actually occur in the field. The fourth group focuses on observing safety surrogate measures as they might occur in a driving simulator. The fifth and sixth groups relate to social surveys and analytical studies. In this instance, the down-selection process eliminated all research strategies concerning crashes, social surveys, and analytical studies. Within the parentheses next to each strategy are some selected advantages and disadvantages associated with using that type of strategy in conducting research.

Only the key strategies are shown in the list of recommended research strategies. They were selected by the same process used to select the key independent and dependent variables, with one important exception. This exception involves the incorporation of several assumptions which were derived from the antecedent analysis of potential independent and dependent variables. First, the brightness, sharpness, photo realism, and visual context of the CEVMS are extremely important. Since these characteristics are difficult to reproduce in a laboratory, laboratory methods tended to be judged low. In addition, certain participant-related variables, in particular eye glance behavior, are highly effective measures of distraction and workload. Any research method that supported the measurement of such variables tended to be judged high. Last, crash data involve rare events with multiple causal factors, making them difficult to measure. The CEVMS technology is too new to have an adequate crash heritage. In general, crash estimation methods tended to be judged low.

After incorporation of the above assumptions, the following final list of recommended research strategies was developed. This final list included strategies from only two of the original six groups of strategies.
The recommended research strategies for the safety surrogate field group include the following:

The recommended research strategies for the safety surrogate laboratory group include the following:

The more detailed analysis underlying the above combined list of recommended research strategies may be found in table 3 in appendix A. In the table, the more comprehensive analysis of research strategies is further broken down into approximately 55 specific categories and 165 subtypes or levels of these categories. The reader is encouraged to carefully examine the many strategies and their advantages and disadvantages, as described in the table, to gain a greater appreciation of the wide variety of potentially relevant research methods which might be employed to study possible CEVMS effects.

Table 3 can be used to discriminate among potential candidate research strategies. Certain research strategies can be eliminated from further consideration. Analytical studies cannot fill knowledge gaps and consequently often fall prey to reliance on unfounded assumptions. Social surveys are based on memory and opinion, and they are generally administered far from the event of interest both in terms of time and space. Crash rates, whether observed in the field or in the laboratory, represent extremely rare events, which are often the result of multiple complex causes and thereby difficult to evaluate. CEVMS technology has not been deployed long enough to accumulate a sufficient number of proximal motor vehicle crashes to make reliable estimates concerning population crash statistics in the field. Driving simulators used to measure safety surrogates have the advantage of careful control over stimulus parameters and testing conditions, but they suffer the disadvantage of being unnatural and artificial. More importantly, driving simulators have difficulty reproducing the luminance contrast and bright photorealism of the new CEVMS technology. In a similar manner, the closed-course test track and non-vehicle based field testing techniques represent a comparatively artificial and out-of-context experimental environment even though they are conducted in the field. Finally, commentary driving also affords natural billboard stimuli, but the driving task becomes somewhat artificial.

The three research strategies which were judged to be the most effective were the on-road instrumented vehicle, the naturalistic driving, and the unobtrusive observation method, which were all used to measure driver distraction and safety surrogates. Thus, the outcome of the present investigation of research strategies recommends three primary candidates for consideration in any program of future research to study the possible effects of CEVMS on driver distraction and roadway safety. Each of the three study methods represented has its own unique advantages and disadvantages. All three of these top candidate research strategies should be considered in developing any future research program on CEVMS effects. They provide the basis for selecting a recommended first stage study in such a program.

This is not to say that other research strategies do not have a significant role to play in a comprehensive research program directed toward a common goal. For example, if significant negative CEVMS safety effects have already been found using one of the primary research strategies, subsequent driving simulator experiments might be employed to systematically vary certain billboard location, timing, or spacing parameters in a controlled and consistent manner to establish billboard placement guidance. In addition, combinations of research strategies can result in synergistic efficiency. For example, both the unobtrusive observation and the naturalistic driving methods naturally support the simultaneous collection of crash, near-crash, or safety surrogate data. The analysis of crash data will also be needed to relate measures of driver distraction to more direct determinants of roadway safety.

Updated: 9/5/2014
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