Transportation Research Meets Psychology at NTC

November 28, 2011

It is not too often that the worlds of transportation engineering and psychology collide, but that is what is happening at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Nebraska Transportation Center (NTC).

Assistant Professor Anuj Sharma, Ph.D., and his team researchers are studying the effects of various traffic conditions on driver behavior. They are looking for indications of changes in the drivers’ stress levels such as when the traffic light is about to change.

One aspect of the research involves Sharma and his team researchers are measuring student drivers’ anxiety by using equipment such as cameras and an instrument called BioPac, which measures the drivers biological changes such as heart beat and skin condensation.

NTC partnered with Central Community College’s truck driving school to use student drivers as test subjects. The study is funded by the Mid-America Transportation Center and is said to be a fresh approach in the realm of transportation research.

“It’s a pretty new area,” Sharma said. The study was inspired by Sharma’s doctoral dissertation on evaluating change in driver’s behavior and the change of the yellow light. He said he wanted to learn more about driver comfort rather than crashes since the area is rarely studied.

Sharma said the idea behind the research is to find a measure that reduces driver’s discomfort such as providing better training.

For example, he explained that after completing the research that he hopes to be able to tell the drivers some information such as telling them how many seconds of green light are left to help mitigate or lessen their stress.

Sharma said the goal is to make the truck drivers’ drive as comfortable as possible. So far, the researchers are noticing that there are some conditions where the driver’s heart rate is higher than average. However, the data collection and processing has not been completed, so they are unable to make any official connections.

One unofficial connection is that the research is currently showing that drivers’ anxiety increases when they are approaching an intersection. The data is also currently indicating that drivers’ are getting more stressed when they have to change gears, which Sharma said was unexpected and interesting. He said this change may be because of the drivers’ level of experience since they are still new drivers.

Sharma hopes expands this research to other projects that will focus on different factors such as evaluating the effect of weather on drivers’ comfort and anxiety levels.

The MATC project is expected to be completed by the spring or early summer of 2012. Sharma said he anticipates publishing the results in conference papers and transportation engineering journals. He also mentioned that he would be interested in sharing the research findings with truck companies and truck driving training schools.

In addition to Sharma, NTC and MATC wish to highlight the involvement of graduate student, Sunil Gyawali, and his invaluable contribution to the project. To learn more about Gyawali’s involvement, click here.