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United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation
OFFICE OF RESEARCH, DEVELOPMENT, AND TECHNOLOGY AT THE TURNER-FAIRBANK HIGHWAY RESEARCH CENTER

Human Factors

In over 90 percent of crashes, the critical reason for the crash is driver behavior. The purpose of Human Factors research is to better understand driver and road user behavior, to further the understanding of roadway user needs so that those needs can be incorporated in roadway design, construction, repair, and improvement. All of the Federal Highway Association’s (FHWA's) strategies for improving safety and enhancing operations throughout the highway transportation system benefit from the appropriate consideration of driver behavior. Human factors studies consider driver, pedestrian, and special user needs and capabilities, as well as how each of these factors impact safety and inform better roadway design.


Human factors research is a cross-cutting field supporting projects in other research focus areas. Human factors researchers routinely provide the fundamental investigations for projects considering traffic control device effectiveness, novel intersection designs, pedestrian, and bicyclist safety, and connected and automated vehicle and roadway safety.

Research Topics

Human factors research conducted by the Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center (TFHRC) covers a range of topics, including: visual attention to traffic control devices and distraction sources external to the vehicle; improving road signs and other traffic control devices for legibility, conspicuity, and comprehension; pedestrian and bicyclist safety; traffic management center design; intersection design, and connected and automated vehicle and roadway safety.

Numerous studies have been conducted using the research tools in FHWA’s Human Factors Laboratory. The Human Factors Laboratory’s full-scale driving simulator is a complete automobile attached to a 6-degree-of-freedom motion system that includes a seamless 200-degree field of view composed of high-fidelity, computer-generated roadway scenes and advanced eye-tracking capabilities. The simulator's sound system provides engine, wind, tire noises, and other environmental sounds. The vehicle in the simulator has a fully configurable cockpit and instrument displays, giving researchers great flexibility in their selection of experimental vehicle features for each research project.

The Human Factors Laboratory also has two field research vehicles that are equipped to record the vehicle’s position, speed, and acceleration, along with a state-of-the-art eye-tracking system. These field research vehicles can gather live driving data and allow researchers to examine driving behaviors in real-world settings.

The Human Factors Laboratory’s Sign Laboratory consists of a 60-inch liquid crystal display high-definition TV connected to a computer control center. It enables researchers to determine the maximum distance at which a sign can be recognized and measure a participant’s comprehension of signs and markings.

The Human Factors Virtual Reality (VRL) Lab opened in the late summer of 2016. Initially, researchers will use VR tools to conduct research in the area of vehicle to pedestrian communication (V2P). This application of VR offers the opportunity to incorporate a broader range of pedestrian and driver behaviors into specified scenarios without placing these subjects at risk.

Last updated: Thursday, August 26, 2021