Realtime Technologies


Using Driving Simulators to Explore Emotions and Driver Safety

Using Driving Simulators to Explore Emotions and Driver Safety

Americans’ love of cars and the open road. It’s only predictable that many of our emotional and interpersonal dynamics would play out behind the wheel. But when drivers take their stress, frustration, anger, and emotional turmoil behind the wheel, they are wielding a deadly weapon with a troubled mind.

The Effects of Mood and Emotion on Driving Safety

Since the Covid-19 global pandemic, the quality of Americans’ mental health has fallen sharply. One of the many consequences of this phenomenon is a dramatic increase in road-related injuries and fatalities. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that the number of vehicle crashes in the US jumped 16 percent from 2020 to 2021, increasing to about 16,500 crashes per day. The spike in crashes came with an even greater jump in fatalities: almost 43,000 Americans died in vehicle crashes in 2021—the highest number in about 15 years. Law enforcement officials note that people are driving more aggressively, recklessly, and dangerously than ever before. Factor in relatively new Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS), and you now have an additional variable: how will a driver’s emotional state affect their performance when collaborating behind the wheel with their vehicle’s ADAS systems?

How to Safely Study Emotional State and Driving Performance

As the automobile industry moves toward more fully automated vehicles, we must not overlook the emotional state of the vehicle operator. In 2020, researchers at the University of Michigan used Realtime Technologies driving simulators to take a deeper look into the complicated interaction between driver and machine. The simulation software enabled the investigators to safely examine the effects of drivers’ emotional valence (i.e., positive versus negative emotion) and arousal (i.e., high versus low emotional energy) on their ability to takeover for their ADAS-enabled vehicles in an emergency. Without a simulator, this valuable research would not be safe or feasible.

By examining decision-making and performance in the context of emotional state, the researchers concluded that drivers who demonstrate high emotional valence and high arousal (i.e., happy and energized) made better decisions and reacted more quickly when driving traditional vehicles (those without ADAS). But when it came to being prepared to takeover when ADAS fell short in an automated vehicle, things were different: drivers still performed best when they were experiencing positive emotions, but their level of emotional arousal seemed to have no impact on takeover speed and accuracy.

Such findings have implications for vehicle design and are an important contribution to the industry going forward.

Realtime Technologies is Your Partner in Research

For more than 25 years, Realtime Technologies has specialized in graphical simulation and modeling, and multibody vehicle dynamics. We offer simulation software applications, consulting services, custom engineering solutions, and software and hardware development. We are uniquely positioned to model the different factors that can affect safety, allowing for deeper analysis of the nuances of human-machine interaction. The consultants and engineers at RTI have the tools, knowledge, and enthusiasm to help support your automotive research program and keep you on the cutting edge of the industry. Contact us today to find out how we can help support your research program.