A Driving Simulator Evaluation of Driver Distraction and Traffic Control Device Comprehension for At-Grade Railroad Crossings

Safety in our Nation's railroads continues to be a major concern, particularly as it relates to safety at railroad-highway grade crossings. Railroad-highway grade crossings are those intersections in which any part of a roadway intersects with railroad tracks. Fundamentally, an incident occurs because a driver is unable to select an appropriate speed and/or path through the roadway segment that crosses the tracks, is unable to successfully carry out an appropriate decision, or is distracted and never sees the railroad-highway grade crossing (1). Treatments at railroad grade crossings are intended to prevent such incidents, however limited research has studied the human factors related effects of railroad grade crossing treatments and the relationship to distraction. The objective of the proposed research is to address the role that distraction has on the effectiveness of a warning device when the conspicuity and expectation are varied at railroad grade crossings. In order to address the gap that exists in the understanding of driver distraction at railroad-highway grade crossings, two driving simulator experiments will be conducted. For the first experiment, the role distraction plays in reducing the benefit of existing rail grade crossing treatments, including both active and passive systems, with various combinations of crossbucks, flashing lights, and gates will be analyzed. To measure the role of distraction participants will either be engaged in a distracting task or not engaged. The distracting tasks will include a mock cell phone conversation and an in-vehicle task. Based on the findings in Experiment 1, and assuming that distractions reduce the advantage of flashing lights, an evaluation will be made in Experiment 2 on the driving simulator of alternative treatments that may be employed to better warn drivers of an approaching train. A likely alternative is the pavement markings being used for an at-grade crossing study by the Florida Department of Transportation, that are both inexpensive to install and easy to maintain. The anticipated results include both an improved understanding of the impact of distraction on driver behavior at railroad grade crossing treatments and a series of recommendation for improved practices of marking railroad grade crossing to mitigate these impacts.

  • Record URL:
  • Supplemental Notes:
    • Contract to a Performing Organization has not yet been awarded.


  • English


  • Status: Active
  • Funding: $249952.00
  • Contract Numbers:



  • Sponsor Organizations:

    Research and Innovative Technology Administration

    University Transportation Centers Program
    1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
    Washington, DC  United States  20590
  • Start Date: 20131001
  • Expected Completion Date: 0
  • Actual Completion Date: 20180930
  • Source Data: RiP Project 39336

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01557844
  • Record Type: Research project
  • Source Agency: New England University Transportation Center
  • Contract Numbers: DTRT13-G-UTC31, UMAR25-28
  • Files: UTC, RiP
  • Created Date: Mar 26 2015 1:01AM