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Improving the effectiveness of nighttime temporary traffic control warning devices, volume 2 : evaluation of nighttime mobile warning lights.
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Filetype[PDF-832.43 KB]

  • Publication/ Report Number:
    FHWA-ICT-13-032 ; ICT-13-032 ; UILU-ENG-2013-2033
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  • Abstract:
    Vehicle-mounted warning lights for nighttime mobile highway operations provide critical protection to workers and the driving

    public. Alerting the traveling public of the approaching work activity and providing guidance is vital to maintaining safety and

    mobility. Previous research conducted for IDOT on mobile lane closures (Steele and Vavrik 2009) identified driver confusion

    as a concern to the safety of nighttime highway operations. Users are subject to warning lights from multiple agencies with

    varying characteristics and configurations, but we know little about driver comprehension of these signals and their influence

    on driver behavior.

    Applied Research Associates, Inc. (ARA) studied the effectiveness of warning lights on nighttime highway operations,

    including mobile lane closures, incident responses, and police activities, by reviewing pertinent literature, performing

    observational and experimental field studies, and conducting driver surveys and focus groups of driver perceptions and

    behavior in response to nighttime mobile operations. We used a cognitive model of driver mental processes to analyze this

    information and better understand the interaction between warning lights and driver perception and behavior, and to identify

    and evaluate potential improvements to current practice.

    The research showed that drivers view current vehicle-mounted warning lights as highly visible, attention-getting, and

    effective at conveying the message caution/alert. However, intense lights can cause discomfort glare and multiple light sets

    on individual vehicles, or multiple vehicles at a location, can be distracting, annoying, or anxiety-inducing. Complex visual

    scenes can confuse drivers and take longer to process cognitively, leading to slower reaction times. Often, information

    provided by flashing arrows, signs, and changeable message signs can be interfered with by other warning lights on the same


    Suggestions for improvement from the focus groups centered primarily on reducing the number of flashing lights, or

    synchronizing their flashing, on individual vehicles, reducing the intensity of specific lights, sequential flashing of arrows

    between multiple trucks in a convoy, and incorporating directional motion in light bars. Researchers were not able to test

    some of the ideas due to limitations of current device technology; however, field experiments on several suggested concepts

    showed the potential to improve driver perception, comprehension, and behavior by modifying the number, intensity, and

    synchronization of lights on individual vehicles, as well as between vehicles.

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