driving simulator, VMS, CMS, DMS, EMS, VSL, traffic safety


Researchers at the University of Central Florida (UCF) have been working during the past few years on different strategies to improve freeway safety in real-time. An ongoing research at UCF has investigated crash patterns that occurred on a stretch of Interstate-4 located in Orlando, FL and created statistical models to predict in real-time the likelihood of a crash in terms of time and space. The models were then tested using PARAMICS micro-simulation and different strategies that would reduce the risk of crashes were suggested. One of the main recommended strategies was the use of Variable Speed Limits (VSL) which intervenes by reducing the speed upstream the segment of high risk and increasing the speed downstream. The purpose of this study is to examine the recommendations reached by the micro-simulation using the UCF driving simulator. Drivers' speed behavior in response to changes in speed limits and different information messages are observed. Different scenarios that represent the recommendations from the earlier micro-simulation study and three different messages displayed using Variable Message Signs (VMS) as an added measure to advice drivers about changes in the speed limit were created. In addition, abrupt and gradual changes in speed were tested against the scenarios that maintained the speed limit constant or did include a VSL or VMS in the scenarios' design (base case). Dynamic congestion was also added to the scenarios' design to observe drivers' reactions and speed reductions once drivers approached congestion. A total of 85 subjects were recruited. Gender and age were the controlling variables for the subjects' recruitment. Each of the subjects drove 3 out of a total of 24 scenarios. In addition, a survey was conducted and involved hypothetical questions, including knowledge about VMS and VSL, and questions about their driving behavior. The survey data were useful in identifying the subjects' compliance with the speed limit and VSL/VMS acceptance. Two statistical analytical techniques were performed on the data that were collected from the simulator: ANOVA and PROC MIXED. The ANOVA test was used to investigate if the differences in speed and reaction distances between subjects were statistically significant for each sign compared to the base case. The PROC MIXED analysis was used to investigate the differences of all scenarios (24x24) based on the spot speed data collected for each driver. It was found from the analyses that drivers follow better the message displayed on VMS that informs them that the speed is changing, whether it is or not, strictly enforced as opposed to providing the reason for change or no information. Moreover, an abrupt change in speed produced immediate results; however both abrupt and gradual changes in speed produced the same reduction in speed at the target zone. It was also noticed that most drivers usually drive 5 mph above the speed limit, even though in the survey analysis the majority of them stated that they drive in compliance with the speed limit or with the flow of traffic. This means that if a modest speed reduction of 5 mph is requested they will ignore it, but if a 10 mph reduction is recommended they will reduce the speed by at least 5 mph. Consequently, it was noticed that drivers arrived at the congestion zone with a slower speed than the base speed limit due to the combination of VMS and VSL signage. By having drivers approaching congestion with a slower speed, potential rear-end crashes could be avoided. Comparing the two genders indicated that females are more likely to follow the VMS's recommendations to reduce the speed. Also females in general drive above the speed limit between 2 mph and 3 mph, while males drive above the speed limit between 5 mph and 8 mph. From the analysis of the age factor, it was concluded that drivers from the 16-19 age group drive faster and drivers from the 45 and above age group drive slower, than the drivers from the other groups. In general, all drivers reduced and/or increased their speed accordingly when a VMS and/or VSL was present in the scenario advising for this change in the speed limit. The investigations conducted for this thesis proved that the recommendations suggested previously based on the crash risk model and micro-simulation (Abdel-Aty et al., 2006) aid drivers in reducing their speed before they approach a segment of high risk and by doing so reduce the likelihood of a crash. Finally, the real-time safety benefits of VMS and VSL should be continuously evaluated in future studies.


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Graduation Date





Abdel-Aty, Mohamed


Master of Science in Civil Engineering (M.S.C.E.)


College of Engineering and Computer Science


Civil and Environmental Engineering

Degree Program

Civil Engineering








Release Date

May 2007

Length of Campus-only Access


Access Status

Masters Thesis (Open Access)