In-Vehicle Work Zone Messaging

When you’re out on the highway, you probably regularly come across work zone signs in Vermont alerting you to construction zones in the area, especially during the summer months. These signs are designed to alert people of upcoming work zones and to convince drivers to slow down and be careful with their driving behaviors around the people at work.

With technology constantly evolving, researchers have been looking for new ways to alert drivers to work zones and encourage better, safer driving behavior. One such technology that’s been experimented with in other states like Minnesota is the use of smartphones to deliver in-vehicle messages about work zones.

One might hear about this technology and think it would lead to problems with distracted drivers. However, under simulated conditions, it turned out that drivers were actually not distracted by the work zone-related messages they received with their smartphones. In fact, their performance behind the wheel in work zones actually improved. As long as the message included some sort of auditory component, the location of the phone did not affect the driver at all.

Researchers said the findings showed that drivers had a “lower mental workload” when they received in-vehicle messages. Half the messages were auditory only, and half were auditory paired with some visual elements.

How it worked

The research team in charge of the project created an online survey, homing in on Minnesota drivers’ perceptions of safety in work zones and their attitudes toward using smartphones and receiving possible in-vehicle messages about conditions in work zones. The information from the surveys was collected by the University of Minnesota’s HumanFIRST Laboratory. The lab then went to work on developing a driving simulation study that helped determine if in-vehicle messages sent by smartphones would be able to promote safe driving in construction zones.

There were 48 drivers who participated in the study, operating a driving simulator in two different work zones. Researchers tested the reactions they had to in-vehicle messages versus messages displayed on an external system. They tracked information about the visual attention, driving performance and mental workload of each participant, as well as the opinions of the drivers about smartphone technologies.

Researchers also analyzed existing national studies about driver behavior risk factors in work zones and other environmental risk factors that could play a role.

What the team found was that drivers were actually more responsive than expected to receiving in-vehicle messages regarding road hazards and work zones. Messages delivered through smartphones actually increased driver performance. Drivers preferred audio messaging, and a synthesized female voice resulted in greater awareness than a natural, prerecorded voice.

A survey found that only five percent of the participants used a dashboard mount for smartphones—most keep their phone on the passenger seat, in a cup holder, on the console, in a purse or backpack or elsewhere in the vehicle. The location of the phone did not negatively impact performance or driver safety—the auditory messaging was the most important factor.

For more information about these evolutions in driver alerts and construction signs in Vermont, contact Worksafe Traffic Control Industries today.

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