Human Performance in the Transportation System
People, acting as designers, operators, crew, or customer/users, are an
integral part of transportation systems. Decisions they make, and the
performance patterns they exhibit as individuals and as part of organizations
significantly affect the overall productivity and operational safety of
transportation systems. Behavioral science provides the methodology to
examine systematically the decision-making process and performance capability
and reliability. A broadly based proactive transportation behavioral science
research program provides results, data and methodologies useful to the
regulatory and operational requirements of all levels of government. It also
supports the operational efficiency and competitiveness of the private sector
in the global transportation community. Of critical importance is the
improvement of human performance in transportation systems and the resulting
effect on safety, environmental protection, and productivity.
Human error is the principal cause of 60-90% of transportation accidents.
Progress in reducing transportation fatalities, injuries and property losses
is clearly tied to obtaining a better understanding of the root causes of
human error and developing appropriate mediating mechanisms that address the
individual and how humans function in organizations and with different
relationships, training and motivation.
Successful adoption of advanced technologies requires that people be able
to successfully use and interact with new technologies. Technological
advances raise new questions about people's ability to understand and operate
equipment, while simultaneously coping with increased complexity in system
operations. Concern for operator and user needs and capabilities must be
included in designs for new technologies to ensure their success.
Technological developments will be successful if they can be understood, are
user-friendly and can be safely operated.
Reduction of transportation fatalities, injuries, and property losses
will depend on identifying and removing the causes of human errors or
compensating for them. Many research opportunities remain that hold the
promise of markedly safer and more productive transportation systems.
- APPLICATIONS OF HUMAN PERFORMANCE RESEARCH
- The National Transportation Safety Board determined that the probable
causes of the grounding of the EXXON VALDEZ were: failure of the third mate to
properly maneuver the vessel because of fatigue and excessive workload; the
failure of the master to provide a proper navigation watch because of
impairment from alcohol; the failure of Exxon Shipping Company to provide a
fit master and a rested and sufficient crew for the EXXON VALDEZ; the lack of
effective Vessel Traffic Service because of inadequate equipment and manning
levels, inadequate personnel training, and deficient management oversight; and
the lack of effective pilotage services.
In response to the grounding of the US Tank ship Exxon Valdez, the US
Coast Guard and MARAD are using human factors research to improve maritime
safety. The goal of this work is to find out how the regulatory, guidance
and enforcement activities of the Coast Guard and the industry can improve the
safety and competitiveness of maritime operations and to propose specific
solutions. Human factors research underway now will provide more effective
ways to enhance safety and productivity by:
- Recommending ways to mitigate the negative effect of sleep disruptions on
- Designating which on-board tasks should and should not be automated.
- Determining how reduced manning levels can impact on-board emergency
- Designing improved nautical charts, displays and alarms.
- Improving communication between ship personnel and/or between ship
personnel and the Vessel Traffic Service (VTS).
- Teaching crew members how to share work tasks and responsibilities more
effectively to make better use of crew resources and reduce misunderstandings
using Bridge Resource Management skills.
- Using risk assessment techniques to determine the role of human error in
the design, construction, reliability, and safety of marine structures.
It is expected that as advanced wide area navigation technologies such as
Differential Global Positioning System (DGPS) become more widely available
they will provide VTS facilities with real-time information about activity in
congested waters not visible on radar. The Coast Guard and MARAD will need to
figure out the safest and most effective ways to design, locate and operate
equipment to display this information to shore stations and mariners . These
current and anticipated efforts are part of MARAD's and US Coast Guard's
integrated plan for safety and human factors work which is designed. to reduce
the likelihood of this kind of disaster happening again.
Research in human factors and behavioral sciences is a critical aspect of
building the needed transportation knowledge base, improving operational
efficiency, and increasing overall productivity. Areas in which better
understanding of human performance and behavior is needed include:
- Identification and prevention of fatigue and loss-of-alertness;
- Identification of optimized work-sleep cycles for commercial operators;
- Design of user-friendly working environments;
- Development of strategies for dealing with drug and alcohol use;
- Design of artificial intelligence systems to enable error-free, rapid
responses to emergencies;
- Development of methods to test commercial operators for readiness/fitness
for operational duty;
- Development of operating procedures which facilitate effective interactions
between and among crews and right-of-way controllers, and;
- Development of optimized crew resource management schemes.
Major Program Objectives
Major program objectives for research in human performance and behavioral
sciences in transportation systems are to:
- Ensure that human performance capabilities and limitations are reflected in
transportation system designs and operational timetables and structures.
- Ensure that transportation system designs incorporating new advanced
information/communications technologies consider user/customer needs and
- Foster the development of transportation products and systems that
incorporate user interfaces which promote safe, efficient, productive
operations, and which are user/worker friendly.
- Increase the competitiveness of US transportation products in world markets
by making them understandable and easy to use by a wide and diverse population
Challenges and New Opportunities
Cooperation between and among Federal agencies responsible for
transportation human factors and behavioral sciences research is common.
However, fundamental cross-cutting research needs are unmet because of lack of
funding support and an existing institutional framework that militates against
this type of work.
- Development of optimized ways of incorporating automation into
transportation systems that minimize errors, overcome sensory and cognitive
limitations, and improve performance and efficiency.
- Application of human performance assessment methodologies more broadly
across all transportation modes and operations.
- Development of generic human performance measurement tools, and data
archives, that can used for multiple purposes by multiple users.
- Development of analytical models which reflect the effects of individual
and group choices and actions/performances on transportation system
functioning and efficiency.
- Development of optimization guidelines for the timely and effective
aggregation and display of information to system users and operators.
- Development of data bases characterizing the distribution of performance
capabilities and limitations, as well as behavior/choice patterns, of the
diverse range of system users/operators that interface with transportation
systems now and in the future.
- Defining the type of information customers need, and ways of gathering and
presenting it, to make intermodal transportation seamless and readily
- Development of analytical models of operator performance that can be used
as benchmarks for improving individuals' capability to safely and efficiently
operate transportation vehicles/equipment.
Accomplishing this work goes beyond the core responsibilities of any single Federal, state, or local transportation agency, but holds the potential
- Strengthening US Competitiveness - by developing optimized systems which
account to human capabilities and limitations as they relate to automation in
transportation system designs and operations.
- Improving and Extending the Mobility of Americans - by incorporating
practical applications of new information and display technologies. The
extent to which US industry makes effective use of modern information
technology is central to the competitiveness of transportation-related
products and services. There is a need for basic knowledge on human
processing as well as documentation of the differential effects of
- Fundamental information describing the baseline performance capabilities
and limitation of the general population of transportation operators and
users, particularly the elderly and the physically challenged, is essential to
the design of transportation systems.
- Increasing the Safety of the US Transportation System - by developing
comprehensive analytical models of how vehicle operators function, in terms of
sensory, cognitive, and physical characteristics would derive substantial
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