Situational Awareness: Cyclist, Driver & Motor-Cyclist On-Road Awareness

situational awareness drivers cyclists motor cyclists

A recent Australian study, titled “Exploring schema-driven differences in situation awareness between road users: an on-road study of driver, cyclist and motorcyclist situation awareness” examines situation awareness in drivers, motorcyclists and cyclists, identifying the key differences and potential conflicts that arise.

The key points or findings in the study are (I am pretty much quoting directly from the paper here). The full paper should really be read to get a good understanding of this interesting research.

Differences in situation awareness between drivers, motorcyclists and cyclists

Is that situation awareness is heavily influenced by schemata, transport mode and the nature of the road environment (e.g. intersection vs arterial road) and that these three factors combine to create differences in situation awareness between distinct road users. The authors suggest that this can be addressed through experience, training and education and targeted use of road design interventions.

Incompatibilities in situation awareness

At intersections, genotype schemata were similar among the three road user groups; however, the driver genotype did not incorporate the area behind or to the sides of the vehicle. Moreover, the driver phenotype was heavily focused on the traffic lights and the area in front of the vehicle. Analysis of the key concepts underpinning situation awareness showed that driver situation awareness was mainly underpinned by the lights and the status of the lights, along with a prominent focus on the intersection itself and the area in front of the vehicle. Although the cyclists and motorcyclists had a strong focus on other traffic and their behaviour in and around the intersection, the drivers did not. This could become problematic when cyclists and motorcyclists operate in intersection areas not incorporated within drivers’ genotype and phenotype schemata, such as behind and to the left- and right-hand sides of the vehicle.

From a road design point of view, the intersections studied do not support the interaction between different road users. For example, none currently alert drivers to the presence of motorcyclists and cyclists, nor do they offer any protection to the motorcyclists and cyclists as they pass through the intersection (e.g. dedicated cyclist lanes stop prior to the intersection, absence of filtering lanes), which in turn increases their variability in behaviour as they seek the safest way through the intersection.

The differences found in the other road environments were broadly found to be compatible. Along the arterial roads, the major differences in genotype schemata were that motorcyclists incorporate a focus on the sides of their vehicle whilst cyclists also focus on potentially moving into the service lane and also making constant checks of the traffic approaching from behind.

Supporting safe interactions between road users

More generally, the findings highlight the critical role of road design in supporting situation awareness among different road users and in ‘connecting’ road users. Consideration of different road user situation awareness requirements during the road design process is therefore proposed as an important step in reducing conflicts between different road users.

Currently, road designs are assessed through a conflict point analysis that focuses on physical pathways through road environments and the potential for road users to come into conflict with one another. It is argued that a failure to consider cognitive conflict points will prevent conflicts between different road users from being solved. The development of situation awareness networks via road user think aloud walkthroughs of road design concepts offers a simplistic low-cost avenue for considering different road user situation awareness requirements during the road design process.

Your Thoughts on Situational Awareness Are Most Welcome

Personally I found this paper a bit heavy going as the language and the context are not my field of expertise by any means but that said the paper’s findings are very interesting in my view and confirm so what my personal experiences. I am interested in hearing your thoughts on this paper and on situational awareness so please do take the opportunity to leave a comment below.

Reference – Situational Awareness

The full reference for the paper is below. Your local University library should be able to obtain a copy for you.

Salmon, P. M., Lenne, M.G., Walker, G. H., Stanton, N. A. & Filtness, A. (2014): Exploring schema-driven differences in situation awareness between road users: an on-road study of driver, cyclist and motorcyclist situation awareness. Ergonomics. Available at Taylor & Francis.

One Response to Situational Awareness: Cyclist, Driver & Motor-Cyclist On-Road Awareness

  1. John Hawkins 8 February 2014 at 2:34 PM #

    I found the excerpt so jargon heavy as to be almost impenetrable.

    Like you, it fits my experience of both driving and riding a bicycle. When riding a bicycle I find most drivers’ awareness to be very poor.

    My own driving awareness of my environment has been heavily influenced by a stong lead provided by my father who constantly emphasised getting ones head out of the car and knowing what is going on around you… much to the intense irritation of my non-driver wife sometimes as I would tune out of conversations to focus on what was unfolding around us.

    That said, the challenges to concentration and situational awareness provided by in car distractions such as phones, GPS devices, and even things like conversations with friends or – worse – with my own children when they were being difficult, are significant and there have been numerous times when I have been less aware than I should.

    It’s interesting to note that all bar one of the speeding tickets I have received over my time as a driver have been when I have had others in the car. (The other was when I was fatigued and in hindsight should not have been driving at all.) There are limits to attentional capacity. I suspect strongly this explains the common cyclists complaint about the infamously poor driving awareness of mums dropping off kids to school.

    As to the study methodology, it seems structurally flawed to me. In a fast-paced urban environment I operate on a mental map of what’s going on around me and having to describe verbally what I am doing, observing and deciding in real time would adversely impact in my ability to navigate the environment safely, by taking up too much of my attentional capacity and causing task saturation. Or I would simply stop talking. I expect I am far from alone in that experience.

    I think a better approach is to use cameras on and in the vehicle to observe what they look at and how they respond to scenarios. Of course, that takes a much larger budget.

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