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During the 1960s, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), known then as the Bureau of Public Roads and a division of the U.S. Department of Commerce, began conducting human factors and driver behavior studies to understand the needs and limitations of transportation users. Two researchers with the Bureau of Public Roads, R. M. Michaels and B. W. Stephens, published an article in a 1963 issue of the Highway Research Record (predecessor of the Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board) titled "Driver Characteristics, Night Visibility, and Driving Simulation." The article described the use of a simulation experiment at the Bureau of Public Roads' laboratory to study driver performance by tracking activities, such as eye movements.

This image shows an early highway driving simulator, with a stationary car in front of a video screen.
Figure 1. An early version of a highway driving simulator.

Another example of FHWA's ongoing support of transportation-related human factors research is a 1981 article by D. A. Gordon. This article, published in Public Roads, described several studies that examined the design of roadway signs using human factors principles, such as applying a correct legibility ratio on sign letters to help drivers read and understand these signs from a distance.

In subsequent years, FHWA's human factors team, with support from onsite technical contractors, has performed numerous studies using a variety of research tools to gain better understanding of the capabilities and limitations of drivers in the context of transportation infrastructure and improvements to enhance travel safety.

This image shows the current highway driving simulator, a car attached to a moving platform, in front of a panoramic video screen.
Figure 2. The current highway driving simulator at Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center.

On July 15th, 2014, U.S. President Barack Obama and U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx visited the Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center (TFHRC). This was the first time a president has visited TFHRC. During President Obama's visit, he discussed the importance of investing in the Nation's infrastructure and the Highway Trust Fund shortfall. President Obama also took time to tour the Human Factors Highway Driving Simulator. While on the tour, President Obama learned about the role of the laboratory and the needs that it fulfills that are critical to the safe design and operation of the Nation's roads. President Obama then took the simulator for a short drive. He displayed much excitement as it was the first time he was able to "drive" a car since being elected into office (just over 6 years at the time).

For information on President Obama's visit, click here.

Updated: Monday, December 2, 2019