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Drivers Use of Deceleration and Acceleration Information in Car-Following Process

B. Sultan, M. Brackstone, and M. McDonald

Understanding driver behavior is important for the development of many applications such as microscopic traffic simulation models and advanced driver assistance systems. The car-following process is an important phase of driving behavior and takes place when a driver follows a lead vehicle and tries to maintain distance and relative speed within an acceptable range. A key to improving knowledge of driver behavior during this process is determining the information perceived by drivers that could inuence their decisions. It has been believed for some time that the main kinematic parameters that affect driver judgment in car following are the relative speed, the distance separation, and the absolute speed. The research described investigated whether drivers are also able to use information on the lead vehicles deceleration or acceleration during the car-following process through experimental validation of current car-following hypotheses. For this research, an instrumented vehicle was used to collect a large database of car-following time sequences, the analysis of which showed strong evidence that drivers are able to perceive information such as the deceleration or acceleration of the vehicle being followed, although no empirical relationship was determined. An example demonstrating the importance of such perception shows that modeling a driver trying to avoid a collision with a lead vehicle would lose 20% of its t accuracy if the lead-vehicle acceleration state were not considered.

During the past decade increasing emphasis has been given to a better understanding of driver behavior in car following, that is, the process that occurs when a driver follows a lead vehicle. This increased emphasis is due to the rapid increase in the number of applications that depend heavily on understanding such behavior, for example, microscopic simulation modeling of traffic and advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS). An important issue relating to this behavior is to identify the information a driver perceives during the driving task. Investigations in this area were performed as long ago as the 1960s, when, for example, Todosiev (1 ) found that in car following, drivers use the optic ow (the rate of change of the subtended angle of the lead vehicle) to determine the dynamic relationship with the lead vehicle (i.e., closing when a drivers speed is faster than that of the lead vehicle or opening when a drivers speed is

Transportation Research Group, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Southampton, Southampton SO17 1BJ, United Kingdom. Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board, No. 1883, TRB, National Research Council, Washington, D.C., 2004, pp. 3139.

slower than that of the lead vehicle). Since then, a variety of investigations have been undertaken. For example, Braunstein and Laughery (2) investigated drivers ability to detect relative velocity and found that detection time increased with following distance and decreased with an increase in relative speed, a finding later conrmed by Torf and Duckstein (3 ). Hoffmann (4 ) found that drivers were able to detect a change in intervehicle spacing of as little as 12% of the initial spacing. Evans and Rothery (5 ) examined drivers ability to detect relative motion when driving on a motorway and showed that drivers were sensitive to the ratio of relative speed to vehicle spacing. A key step was the introduction of the theory of visual control of braking by Lee (6 ), which assumes that drivers judge their decision to start braking on the basis of time to collision (TTC) and relative distance (DX ) with the vehicle ahead. (TTC is the time that a following vehicle would take to collide with a leading vehicle if the current relative speed were sustained; that is, DX /DV, where DV was the relative speed.) The idea of using TTC encouraged several researchers to investigate drivers capabilities to perceive TTC. For example, McLeod and Ross (7 ), Cavallo and Laurent (8), Groeger and Cavallo (9), Hoffmann and Mortimer (10 ), and Sidaway and Fairweather (11) all reported that drivers underestimate TTC, and that other factors influenced TTC estimation, such as speed, viewing time, spacing distance, and experience. More recent studies by Brackstone (12) and Sultan (13 ) showed that TTC could be used to dene the DV threshold over which drivers can determine their dynamic relationship with the lead vehicle. Although there is general agreement that drivers rely mainly on two perceived parameters for their car-following behaviorDX and DVsome microscopic car-following models have also used the deceleration and acceleration of the lead vehicle as input. This addition can be accomplished explicitly (14 ) through the use of a perception threshold (15 ), through the incorporation of information from vehicles further downstream (16 ), or through the use of differing reaction times or scaling parameters, or both, according to the general state of traffic (17, 18). In practice the incorporation of such a term can make an important difference to model stability. For example, if one examines the model of Leutzbach and Wiedemann (14) in which driver deceleration is calculated by Equation 1, a large difference in driver response is found, as shown in Figure 1 (deceleration of a following vehicle approaching a decelerating lead vehicle with and without consideration of the lead vehicles deceleration). In reality, not only may drivers act on current perceived information, but they may act in a more dynamic way by including recent historic perceived information.



Transportation Research Record 1883

2 0 Deceleration (m/s2) -2 -4 -6 -8 -10 -12 0 2 4 6 Time (s) With lead vehicle deceleration Without lead vehicle deceleration
FIGURE 1 Simulation test for Leutzbach and Wiedemann model (14 ) with and without consideration of lead-vehicle deceleration (test for car-following process started with DV 0 = 2 m /s, DX 0 = 30 m, v l = 25 m /s, a l = 2 m /s 2 , and ABX = 0.8 * v l ).




aF (t + 1) = where

[vL (t ) vF (t )]2 + a L (t ) 2 { ABX [ x L (t ) x F (t )]}


indication of a missing term in the model formula that deals with the deceleration or acceleration of the lead vehicle, and several multiple regime models have been proposed to cope with this deciency. Equation 2 represents the general formula of the GM model:
m aF ( t ) = c v F

aL, aF = acceleration or deceleration of lead and following vehicles, respectively; xL, xF = position of lead and following vehicles, respectively; vL, vF = speed of lead and following vehicles, respectively; and ABX = minimum desired following distance. The car-following model developed by General Motors (GM) can also be seen to highlight the importance of adding information on lead vehicle acceleration and deceleration. The GM model has lacked consistency and stability in situations where the lead vehicle was accelerating or decelerating (19 ). Several different values for the parameters m and l have been suggested according to different situations, as shown in Table 1. These differing values could be an
TABLE 1 Summary of Optimal Parameter Combinations for GM Model During Its Stages of Development

[vL (t T ) vF (t T )] [ x L (t T ) x F (t T )]l


Source Chandler et al. (19) Helly (20) Gazis et al. (21) May and Keller (22) Heyes and Ashworth (23) Hoefs (24) (Dc no brk./Dc brk./Ac) Treiterer and Myers (25) (Dc/Ac) Ceder and May (26) (single regime) Ceder and May (26) (uncgd./cgd.) Aron (27) (Dc/ss/Ac) Ozaki (18) (Dc/Ac)

m 0 1 0-2 0.8 -0.8 1.5/0.2/0.6 0.7/0.2 0.6 0/0 2.5/2.7/2.5 0.9/-0.2

l 0 1 1-2 2.8 1.2 0.9/0.9/3.2 2.5/1.6 2.4 3/0-1 0.7/0.3/0.1 1/0.2

where l, m, and c are parameters that should be estimated from empirical data and T is the driver reaction time (it also represents the simulation time step). There has been virtually no empirical justication for the inclusion of such terms aside from a number of low-accuracy macroscopic investigations (18). It is the intent here to provide proof that drivers do act with some knowledge or consideration of the acceleration state of the lead vehicle and that this factor does affect their car-following behavior. With the space available here, it is clearly not possible to construct a full empirical validation and series of simulation tests; however, it is hoped that this rst stage may help current carfollowing modeling to evolve, thus contributing to current research efforts such as those under way in the Next Generation Simulation (NGSIM) project (28). METHODOLOGY AND DATA COLLECTION The goal of this research was to isolate car-following data sequences during which drivers could be interpreted as acting upon perceived deceleration or acceleration from the lead vehicle. In the process of following, drivers will try to maintain a constant distance from the lead vehicle by controlling their acceleration or deceleration. However, because of perception thresholds and difficulties in controlling speed, drivers will create a spiral relationship of DV and DX, as shown in Figure 2. Two situations may show whether drivers are able to perceive the deceleration or acceleration of a lead vehicle. In these cases, drivers would not necessarily perceive an absolute value but rather would

Dc/Ac = deceleration/acceleration. brk./no brk. = deceleration with and without brakes. uncgd./cgd. = uncongested/congested. ss = steady state. m, l = parameters to be estimated from empirical data.

Sultan, Brackstone, and McDonald


4 3 Opening Process 2

Relative Speed (m/s)

1 0 -1 -2 -3 -4 20 30 40 Spacing Distance (m) 50 60

Closing Process


Typical DV and DX relationship for following process.

have an understanding of the dynamic situation relative to the lead vehicle. These situations are as follows: 1. Drivers are over their opening relative-speed perception threshold and are trying to regain closing by decelerating less than a decelerating lead vehicle. Drivers over an opening relative-speed perception threshold are able to recognize that the lead vehicle is the faster one. Usually, drivers would accelerate to regain closing if they were over this threshold. However, if they appreciate that the lead vehicle is decelerating, they may decelerate less than the lead vehicle. This behavior can be explained by assuming that drivers either are able to perceive the lead-vehicle deceleration or are anticipating circumstances from vehicles downstream or are reacting to the lead-vehicle brake lights. If this were not the case, drivers would accelerate to regain closing. (Although brake light activation alerts drivers to the dynamic situation, it does not tell them how hard to brake.) 2. Drivers are over their closing relative-speed perception threshold and are trying to regain opening by accelerating less than an accelerating lead vehicle. Drivers over the closing DV perception threshold are able to recognize that the lead vehicle is slower. Usually, drivers decelerate to avoid being too close if they are over this threshold. However, if they realize that the lead vehicle is accelerating, they may accelerate less than the lead vehicle. This behavior could not be explained if the drivers were not able to perceive the lead-vehicle acceleration; otherwise they would decelerate to regain opening. An instrumented vehicle ( IV) (29) was used to collect microscopic data on driver behavior in order to investigate the foregoing hypotheses. The IV is equipped with speed sensors, video cameras, and two radar rangenders, one at the front and the other at the back, to measure intervehicle separation. The vehicle was used in active and passive modes. Active mode measurement is undertaken using the front radar (facing forward, measuring the response of test subjects), and passive mode collection is undertaken using the rear detector, monitoring subjects following the IV. Although active mode measurements are restricted by the number of available subjects, comprehensive details of behavior may be recorded, such as V, DV, DX, deceleration or acceleration (DC ), steering angle, pedal movements, and so on. Conversely, the passive mode can enable data to be collected on a large number of drivers but with less infor-

mation, that is, only V, DX, and DV. Such drivers are in their own cars and are driving under normal conditions. Data collection comprised 12 test runs of around 90 min each at peak times (between 4:00 and 6:00 p.m.) on the M27 three-lane motorway to the north of Southampton and the A35 two-lane urban road to the west of Southampton in the United Kingdom. Each of six subjects was asked to undertake two test runs, one on each of the two roads, with each subject being instructed to follow a particular vehicle in a specic lane. Since the experiment was undertaken during high-ow conditions, data were collected for the majority of the test time on vehicles to both the front and the rear. This procedure allowed information on an additional 208 drivers to be collected from the rearfacing sensor. For each following process, time-series data were extracted for the ground speed of the IV (V ), the deceleration or acceleration for both the lead and following vehicles of each pair, DV, and DX. (In the active case, the IV was the following vehicle, and in the passive case the lead vehicle.)

DATA ANALYSIS Several processing stages were undertaken before analysis because of the size of the database: 1. Each car-following sequence was divided into two types of interloops. (An interloop is a part of the data that occurs between two consecutive points of zero DV, as shown in Figure 3.) The rst type occurs when DV is negative (closing) (Figure 3, A to B to C), and the second when DV is positive (opening) (C to D to E). 2. Each interloop was then divided into two sections representing situations before and after the DV peak point (B or D). Only the second section of an interloop was used in this study, in which drivers were trying to regain closing (when their DV was positive, Section 4 in Figure 3) and to avoid being close (when DV was negative, Section 2 in Figure 3). 3. Data sequences with drivers DV perceptions under thresholds were discarded in order to eliminate situations in which the following driver could not perceive a change in DV. Sultan (13) found that the ratio between the DV and the DX (DX/DV = TTC) could be used to determine driver perception probability (Figure 4). When 1/TTC


Transportation Research Record 1883

3 2.5 2 D

Relative Speed (m/s)

1.5 1 0.5 0 -0.5 -1 20

|DX/DV|50 sec

C 25 30 35 40 45

A 50

E 55

Spacing Distance (m)

2 1 B

-1.5 -2 -2.5

FIGURE 3 Two types of interloops (opening and closing) and designated sections in data analysis.

100 90 Perception Probability % Most Likely Constant Most Likely Closing Most Likely Opening 80 70 60 50 40 30 20 10 0 -0.12 -0.1 -0.08 -0.06 -0.04 -0.02 [DV/DX] (1/sec)



0.06 0.08


Definitely Opening 0.12 Opening

Definitely Closing



Probability of perception according to ratio DV/DX [after Sultan (13 )].


is more (or less) than 0.08 (or 0.1), drivers could easily perceive that the DV has a positive (or negative) value, that is, opening (or closing). Thus, for the purpose of this research a driver perception threshold was taken as TTC = 50 s (1 / TTC = 0.2). 4. Only events (transitions from B to C or D to E, Figure 3) that lasted more than 1 s were considered [Johansson and Rumar (30 ) identied that 88% of drivers have a reaction time of less than 1 s], that is, only those events in which changes in the vehicle dynamic state could have taken place because of an explicit driver reaction (Figure 5) and not because of random uctuations, or throttle noise as reported by Chandler et al. (19), thus also dispensing with events with deceleration or acceleration levels of less than 0.2 m/s2. 5. To be able to represent each event by one point, the averages of the DV, DX, lead-vehicle deceleration (DCL ), and following-vehicle deceleration (DCF ) were taken during the period of each event. A total of 110 events were found that matched the foregoing conditions for 33 drivers, 64 for the opening situation and 46 for the closing situation. As expected, the majority of events came from the 6 participant drivers in the active-mode measurements, with 74 events fairly evenly distributed between them. The number of events for each driver in the active mode and the total number of events for all 27 passive-mode drivers are shown in Figure 6. Except for Driver 6 (D6), a statistical (t) test showed insignicant differences (at the 5%

level) between each of the active-mode drivers and the population of the 27 passive-mode drivers in terms of the absolute relative deceleration or acceleration with the lead vehicle (DDC = DCL DCF ). Thus, the data from the active and passive modes can be considered to be from the same general population, and a joint analysis can be performed. The mean, standard deviation, number of observations, and

60 50 40 30 20 10 0 1 1.5 2 2.5 3 Event Duration (sec) 3.5 More Frequency Cumulative %

100% 80% 60% 40% 20% 0%


Event duration histogram and cumulative percentage.

Sultan, Brackstone, and McDonald


Active Passive


Number of Events



0 D1 D2 D3 D4 Drivers D5 D6 D7 to D33

FIGURE 6 Number of events for active-mode drivers (D1 to D6) and passive-mode drivers (D7 to D33).

P-value for the t-test between each active-mode driver and the passivemode driver populations are shown in Table 2. Figure 7 shows how the spread of the data (a) in DV and DX and (b) in leader and follower deceleration and acceleration space is generally independent of driver. The existence of such data, then, represents an indication that drivers may perceive information other than DV and DX with the lead vehicle. Drivers could be anticipating or reacting to vehicles farther downstream but at the same time could have understood the dynamic situation regarding the acceleration or deceleration of the lead vehicle in some form. The difficulty is in dening a threshold for this type of driver perception and attempting to quantify it. Consequently, dynamic information such as the leader acceleration or deceleration is now clearly useful but not always as critical as DV and DX. For example, if drivers are unhappy with their DV or DX, they will respond by trying to change their situation to an acceptable range through an understanding of the leader deceleration or acceleration. Potentially, the relative deceleration or acceleration (DDC ) could be used to describe driver response. For example, the existence of an absolute low value of DDC would indicate that a driver was trying to match the lead-vehicle deceleration or acceleration, and a high value would indicate the opposite case. Analysis showed that neither leader speed nor spacing distance has a clear effect on DDC (Table 3). In Figure 8 the relationships (a) between DDC and the leader speed and (b) between DDC and spacing distance are shown. However, when DV was low, drivers showed little tolerance to the leaders deceleration or acceleration (lower values of DDC ), whereas when DV was high, drivers became

less critical and higher DDC values were observed. The relationship between the DDC and DV is shown in Figure 9 (an imaginary line was drawn to explain the effect of DV on DDC ). There are potential contributory factors to this behavior. First, in car-following situations, and when the headway is within the acceptable range, the drivers concern is to control their DV. In such a situation a driver would seek a DDC that would minimize DV. Second, the data in this study are only those considering the uncommon situations, when the lead vehicle was decelerating (accelerating) and the DV situation was opening (closing). The foregoing reasons explain the DV effect, since drivers with higher DV must have a higher value of DDC in order to change their DV quickly.

DISCUSSION OF RESULTS AND CONCLUSION Because the data represent only a special situation in driving behavior during car following, a general model cannot be developed. However, the results clearly show an effect of the lead-vehicle deceleration or acceleration on following-driver behavior. One implication of this effect is in the development of the automatic collision avoidance system (ACAS); Sultan et al. (31), for example, analyzed driver behavior in avoiding a collision with a lead vehicle during normal car following. In their study general linear modeling was used to develop a formula that models driver braking response when TTC is less than 30 s, incorporating DV, DX, speed level, and lead vehicle deceleration. Because the model t the observed data with an r 2 of 94%, it was

TABLE 2 Results of t-Test Between Active-Mode Drivers and Population of Passive-Mode Drivers for Absolute Relative Acceleration and Deceleration (| DC L DC F |)

D7 D33 (passive) Mean Variance Observations P(T<t) 0.228 0.015 36

D1 (active) 0.299 0.065 6 0.532

D2 (active) 0.258 0.022 23 0.416

D3 (active) 0.269 0.039 11 0.522

D4 (active) 0.188 0.021 12 0.400

D5 (active) 0.220 0.051 11 0.915

D6 (active) 0.560 0.154 11 0.018

NOTE: A P-value of more than 0.05 indicates that there is no significant difference at a 5% level.


Transportation Research Record 1883

3.5 2.5

D1(active) D2(active) D3(active) D4(active) D5(active)

Relative Speed (m/s)

1.5 0.5 -0.5

D6(active) -1.5 -2.5 -3.5 0 20 40 Spacing Distance (m) (a) 60 D7 to D33(passive) |DX / DV| = 50 sec


Leader Accel\Deceleration (m/s2)

D1(active) D2(active) D3(active) D4(active) D5(active) D6(active) D7 to D33(passive)

1 0.5 0 -0.5 -1 -1.5 -1.5 -1 -0.5 0 0.5 1 Follower Accel\Deceleration (m/s2) (b) 1.5

FIGURE 7 (a) DV versus DX and (b) leader versus follower deceleration and acceleration for collected events; 6 drivers collected in active mode (subjects were driving IV ) and 26 drivers collected in passive mode (subjects were following IV ).

suggested that it could be used to develop the response of an ACAS. This use was then tested with a microscopic simulation in order to examine the effect of such a formula on the performance of a potential ACAS system. Reexamination of the data using general linear modeling but without considering the lead-vehicle deceleration revealed a signicant drop in r 2 to around 74%. The observed versus

predicted data with and without considering the lead-vehicle deceleration or acceleration are shown in Figure 10. These results show how signicant the consideration of the lead-vehicle deceleration may be to model development. The next stage in research would clearly be to attempt to incorporate such a factor into existing car-following models. For exam-

TABLE 3 ANOVA Test Results Showing Insignificant Effect of Both Spacing Distance and Speed Level on Relative Deceleration and Acceleration Levels in Collected Data

Source Corrected Model Intercept Spacing * Speed Speed Only Spacing Only Error Total Corrected Total

Type III Sum of Squares 1.760 0.001 0.019 0.317 0.426 11.039 13.145 12.799

Degree of Freedom 3 1 1 1 1 106 110 109

Mean Square 0.587 0.001 0.019 0.317 0.426 0.104

F 5.634 0.007 0.179 3.042 4.095

Significance Factor 0.001 0.935 0.673 0.084 0.046

NOTE: A significance factor of more than 0.05 indicates that there is no significant effect on the related parameter on the data distribution at 5% level of significance.

Sultan, Brackstone, and McDonald


Relative Accel/Deceleration (m/s2)

1.5 1.0 0.5 0.0 -0.5 -1.0 -1.5 0 5 10 15 20 25 Leader Speed (m/s) (a) 30 35 40

Relative Accel/Deceleration (m/s2)

1.5 1.0 0.5 0.0 -0.5 -1.0 -1.5 0 10 20 30 40 Spacing Distance (m) (b) 50 60 70

FIGURE 8 No clear relation found between relative acceleration or deceleration and (a) leader speed and (b) spacing distance.

ple, the GM model is presented in Equation 3 with an added term representing the effect of driver perception of lead-vehicle deceleration or acceleration, which could also be described as a driver anticipation term:
m aF ( t ) = C v L

[vL (t T ) vF (t T )] [ x L (t T ) x F (t T )]l

+ K1 aL (t T ) + K2 aF (t T )
1.0 Relative Accel/Deceleration (m/s2)

where aL is the lead-vehicle deceleration or acceleration and K1 and K2 are calibration factors. Two preliminary assessment tests were undertaken to investigate what improvement could be achieved (if any) with the proposed new term using the model formula developed by Chandler et al. (19 ) to represent the original model (m = 0, l = 0 and C = 0.37). Two carfollowing time series of data from two different drivers were used for the tests with traveled distance, speed, and acceleration of the




-1.0 -2.5 -1.5 -0.5 0.5 Relative Speed (m/s) 1.5 2.5


Relation between relative acceleration or deceleration and DV.


Transportation Research Record 1883

1.0 0.0 -1.0 -2.0 -3.0 -3 -2 -1 0 1 Observed Driver Response (m/s2)

1.0 Predicted Response (m/s2) 0.0 -1.0 -2.0 -3.0 -3 -2 -1 0 1 Observed Driver Response (m/s2)

Predicted Response (m/s2)


FIGURE 10 Observed versus predicted driver response for model to avoid collision with lead vehicle: (a) considering lead-vehicle deceleration or acceleration (DC L ) and (b) without considering DC L .

lead vehicle as inputs to both models. After a small number of calibration runs to nd the best values for the parameters K1 and K2, the results indicated an improvement in model performance through the inclusion of the acceleration and deceleration terms. The speed and acceleration time series of the following vehicle for both the old and new models and the real data are presented in Figure 11. This exper-

iment demonstrated how a car-following model could clearly be improved by assessing the deceleration of the lead vehicle. In conclusion, a large database of car-following data was analyzed in order to gather evidence for driver perception of lead-vehicle deceleration or acceleration. The analysis showed that drivers are able to perceive information on the lead-vehicle deceleration or accel-

2 1.5 Deceleration (m/s2) 1 0.5 0 -0.5 -1 -1.5 -2 0 50

Real Data

New Model

Old Model

100 Time (s) (a)



25 20 Speed (m/s) 15 10 5 0 0 50 100

Real Data

New Model

Old Model



Time (s) (b)

FIGURE 11 Comparison between real data and output from original GM model and newly updated model: (a) deceleration versus time and (b) speed versus time.

Sultan, Brackstone, and McDonald


eration during the car-following process. However, dening a perception threshold has proved to be very difficult from the available data, since driver behavior is a dynamic process that relies on both instantaneous and historic information. Although some authors have suggested such a threshold (15), its existence seems unlikely since there would seem to be a limit to a drivers ability to detect changes in the visual eld. However, the ndings here are valuable both for the further development of simulation models (28) and for the development of ADAS to take control of a vehicle and be more likely to meet drivers expectations. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS Work reported in this paper was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council in the United Kingdom. Partial funding for the construction of the instrumented vehicle was also supplied by the University of Southampton and Lucas-TRW. REFERENCES
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Publication of this paper sponsored by Traffic Flow Theory and Characteristics Committee.