Connected Vehicle Technology
Human Factors Research

Research Overview

To ensure that the use of connected vehicles technologies do not introduce unforeseen or unintended safety problems.

The research program in Human Factors for Vehicle-to-Vehicle communications will seek to understand, assess, plan for, and counteract the effects of signals or system-generated messages that take the driver’s eyes off the road (visual distraction), the driver’s mind off the driving task (cognitive distraction), and the driver’s hands off the steering wheel (manual distraction).

The federal research investment is a critical factor in developing the knowledge needed to enable connected vehicles technologies to save lives and reduce injuries without unintended consequences.  The ability to establish the basic principles of attention and distraction within the context of specific advanced communication technologies used in vehicles is a challenging effort whose outcomes will form the parameters for and guide consistent development of safer systems and interfaces for countless new applications across a wide and diverse set of manufacturers.  Consistency and adherence to basic countermeasures for distraction, when developing new applications, is paramount to ensuring ultimate safety for the driver.  Human factors research allows for the development of more robust algorithms for prioritizing safety and for prioritizing messages that assist the driver as opposed to providing greater distraction or workload. 

Research Goals

The objective of this program is to minimize driver workload by eliminating distractions related to Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC)-based devices as a contributing factor to crashes.  This goal is aimed at controlling the ever-present and growing threat to safety represented by driver distraction, which is a factor in many crashes.  Driver distractions and other human factors related to ITS will be evaluated, leveraging the convergent findings of epidemiological studies, experimental studies, and analyses of crash data.

The success of the Human Factors research program will be measured against the following criteria:

  • The vehicle and consumer electronics industries will develop and deploy connected vehicle technologies and applications that comply with voluntary human factors guidelines.
  • Consumers, commercial drivers, and fleet operators are aware of the dangers of distraction and use the results of this program to select products and features that minimize this threat.
  • In-vehicle technologies are available that assist distracted drivers by monitoring their attention status and provide drivers with feedback on unsafe behaviors.
  • Ultimately, all connected vehicles technologies and applications are implemented in such a manner that they reduce the frequency of crashes caused by driver distraction.

Research Questions 

  • Can the frequency of multitasking be reduced?
  • Can the complexity of distracting tasks be reduced?
  • Can unsafe behaviors be monitored and eliminated?

Research Approach


The ultimate goal of this program is to eliminate distraction related to vehicle-to-vehicle communications devices as a contributing factor to crashes.  This goal is aimed at controlling this ever-present and growing threat to safety that underlies the inability of drivers to avoid many crashes.  Although the full extent of the problem cannot be accurately quantified, its role in precipitating crashes can be inferred from the convergent findings of epidemiological studies, experimental studies, and analyses of crash data. 

The challenge of meeting such a goal is that driver distraction is both pervasive and difficult to eliminate.  It is pervasive because of the many existing tasks competing for drivers’ attention, including both common distractions (e.g., passengers, food) and the increasing number of new electronic technologies being incorporated or being brought into vehicles.  Whereas these advanced technologies offer drivers the promise of enhanced safety, comfort, security, and convenience, each new feature is a potential distraction.  Even technologies offering safety benefits may have a distraction side effect, if, for example, they emit too many warnings. Thus, efforts to control distraction risks should strike a balance that provides drivers with the benefits of these technologies while minimizing any adverse safety impact. 

This program is part of a comprehensive approach that is being conducted across the Department that combines behavioral and technology-based solutions.  This approach is needed to overcome these challenges and achieve significant reductions in distraction-related crashes.  This program is directed towards developing and implementing technology-based solutions that motivate drivers to avoid multitasking when possible, and reduce vehicular sources of distraction.  Thus, the program objectives focus on:

  • Lowering the frequency with which drivers multitask to reduce their exposure to risk
  • Reducing the complexity of distracting tasks to reduce their demands on driver attention
  • Managing the multitasking options that drivers can make when driving to avoid overloading them
  • Assisting distracted drivers through in-vehicle technologies that monitor their attention status and provide feedback on unsafe behaviors and potential crashes

The intent is to achieve these goals by working cooperatively with the vehicle industry (manufacturers and suppliers), fleet operators and the consumer electronics industry.   This collaborative effort will develop and voluntarily implement countermeasure strategies that will:

  • Raise public awareness about the extent and characteristics of the problem to motivate them and sensitize them about the need to limit multitasking
  • Provide consumers and other stakeholders with information to help guide their purchase and use of the least distracting devices and vehicle features
  • Encourage vehicle and equipment manufacturers to design interfaces with minimal demands on driver workload
  • Promote the deployment of vehicular technologies to limit unsafe driving and avoid crashes

The benefit of this approach is that it will influence the design and implementation of these devices before they pose a problem.  The voluntary nature of this activity allows for faster implementation where consumers demand safer devices and the industries compete to provide them.

Program Tracks

Track 1 – Problem Definition
Preliminary work activities are underway, sponsored by the NHTSA, and will be used as a foundation for this research work.  Track 1 will improve our understanding of crash risk due to driver distraction.  This will be accomplished by evaluating the nature and scope of the distraction safety problem and the evolving technology devices and features offered to drivers. 

Track 2 – Develop and Evaluate Performance Metrics for Distraction Mitigation
This track will develop performance metrics that have an established link to safety.  They can be used with production vehicles and nomadic devices to address distraction potential and usability.
Track 3 – Integration Strategy
The vehicle-to-vehicle communications program has the potential to enable multiple independent nomadic devices to compete with vehicle-based systems for the driver’s attention.  This project will create an environment that allows nomadic systems to be functionally integrated with vehicle-based systems in order to coordinate and optimize the driver vehicle interface. 

Track 4 – Longer-Term Exposure Implications of Vehicle-to-Vehicle Communications
Determine feasibility and conduct operational tests for distraction related crash warning systems.

Track 5 – Stakeholder Outreach
Improve the understanding by consumers, fleet operators, and commercial drivers, of the impact of distraction on driving safety and a preference for vehicle-to-vehicle communications systems that minimize distraction. 


Research Contacts

To learn more about this research, contact:

Brian Cronin
Team Lead, Research
ITS Joint Program Office
Research and Innovative Technology Administration
(202) 366-8841


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