Psychology Of Transportation Research Paper

View sample Psychology Of Transportation Research Paper. Browse other  research paper examples and check the list of research paper topics for more inspiration. If you need a religion research paper written according to all the academic standards, you can always turn to our experienced writers for help. This is how your paper can get an A! Feel free to contact our custom writing services team for professional assistance. We offer high-quality assignments for reasonable rates.

The psychology of transportation is a field of applied psychology. It entails the study of human behavior and well-being in conjunction with the regularized movement of people, goods, and services regarding work, personal life, and community activity systems. In addition, it involves the interface of humans with transport vehicles and facilities, including their design for optimal operation, provisions for human needs, forms of utilization, and social impacts.

1. Overview And Scope

The domain of transportation has great relevance for psychology, precisely because of its salience in the routines of daily life and its importance for meeting personal, family, and organizational goals. Because various elements of transport systems are operated by people, psychology has an important role in system development, efficiency, and safety. Human cognitive, personality, and performance factors affect vehicle operation. Moreover, transport systems shape the structure of our communities and have a significant impact on both personal and community well-being.

The progress of human societies has always been associated with mobility and transportation. People respond to environmental constraints on mobility and strive to enhance well-being. What happens on a particular journey depends on many intertwined psychological elements, including personality disposition, attitudes about the origin and destination of the trip, and resources for choosing alternative travel modes and schedules, including telecommuting. This provides a vast terrain for psychological research and application of psychological knowledge. The creation and use of transportation systems, the experience and behavior of people in transportation conditions, and the effects of mobility constraints on personal and community health, are broad areas entailed by the psychology of transportation field.

Human factors have long been recognized as being intrinsically involved in the operation of vehicles; however, the psychology of transportation is much broader in scope than the interface between the human operator, the vehicle, and the road design (Rothengatter and Vaya 1997). It entails travel-mode decisions, driver attitudes and performance, the interplay between work and family, emotional wellbeing, and major societal issues such as the needs of special populations, the definition of the workplace, and the provision of transportation facilities.

The field of transportation has been dominated by engineers, urban planners, and economists; but the contributions of psychologists and sociologists are increasingly integrated into this arena (Altman et al. 1981, Wachs and Crawford 1992). Discussions of the social costs of transportation are now common, and psychological elements are given weight in such considerations. Because individuals, families, and work organizations recognize that they absorb hidden costs associated with traffic congestion, air pollution, and traffic noise, there is considerable merit for the role of psychology in understanding how to optimize transportation systems and to assess the consequences of travel constraints (Stokols and Novaco 1981).

2. Historical Development Of The Field

Involvement by psychologists in the field of transportation began in the 1920s when transport companies and government agencies sought to improve the selection of drivers of public transport vehicles, and psychometric testing began to be used in choosing the operators of buses, trams, and trains. A central concern was to minimize accident risk, and psychological tests were used to screen applicants who could be anticipated to be accident-prone. Wartime studies of adjustment among military personnel and the early psychological formulations of stress, adaptation, and coping that resulted from observations made by psychological researchers working with the military extended nicely to the subject of driver performance demands and safety risk. In addition, industrial psychology research on fatigue at the workstation transferred to the issue of vigilance in professional train and road drivers (Barjonet 1997).

As the motor car came to dominate travel in Western societies in the 1950s and 1960s, car ownership grew dramatically and accident rates and road deaths became serious public health problems. For example, in most European countries the number of deaths on the road doubled between 1955 and 1970. Public safety policies, such as speed limits, penalties for drunk driving, and ultimately seat belts, were instituted to curtail casualties, and research into the human causes of accidents came into play. Social psychological knowledge was used in public persuasion efforts, and theories and techniques of learning found fertile ground in driver education and rehabilitation. As the advent of the computer augmented the capacity to analyze and integrate data, the approach in the 1970s and 1980s to understanding driver-based safety risk often took the form of psychological modeling that incorporated personal background, attitudinal, motivational, and emotion variables, as well as ergonomic factors.

The growth in automobile commuting that occurred between 1960 and 1980, especially in the USA, prompted interest in modeling how trips were generated, how they were distributed across travel zones, and how trips were split across available transportation modes (car, bus, train). The boom in automobile commuting followed from substantial growth in the number of jobs, in the working age population, and in the number of women in the labor force. In addition, homes and jobs shifted to suburban locations. Because neither highway nor transit systems were designed for suburb-to-suburb commuting, traffic congestion in metropolitan areas became a salient issue. In the USA, the use of private vehicles between home and work almost doubled from 43 million users in 1960 to 83 million in 1980. At the same time, alternative modes of travel and vehicle occupancy declined and national investment in highway infrastructure fell far behind the demand for road use (Pisarski 1987).

European cities, with their treasured historic centers having limited road space and parking facilities, became concerned about the detrimental effects of traffic congestion and pollution and were keen to impose access restrictions. These trends spurred interest in the travel behavior of individuals. Computer analytic methodology spurred development of travel demand modeling, which blended consumer theory in economics with choice theory in psychology, which assumes that people use some utility or value function in assessing choice alternatives.

Attention to the transportation needs of special populations, such as working mothers, the elderly, and those affected by physical disabilities, also came into focus during the 1970s and 1980s. An important component of the auto-commuting boom was a large increase in the number of women in the labor force (Grieco et al. 1989, Pisarski 1987). Single women with children who lived in suburbs were very dependent on the automobile (Rosenbloom 1992). In the USA, most trips made by working mothers and their children cannot be made by transit, and the impact of travel constraints on the quality of family life is an important topic. In the 1990s, telecommuting emerged, partly as a way to reduce strain on family life. The convergence of technological, economic, social, and psychological factors made work less place-dependent, and telecommuting was heralded as a viable alternative to auto-commuting (Mokhtarian 1990).

In the 1990s, the information age had many effects on transportation systems. The development of intelligent transport systems, such as in-vehicle devices to aid navigation (e.g., route guidance and congestion warnings), as well as the increased sophistication of driver panel displays, raised the importance of driver control, visual search efficiency, and mental load on driving proficiency. On the horizon of advanced technologies are Intelligent Vehicle Highway Systems, which control steering, speed, and spacing automatically. However, having a vehicle travel under the control of a computerized system raises psychological issues of personal control and freedom, which have been themes intrinsic to car ownership and driving.

3. Human Factors And Driver Performance

Psychological variables affect the operation of transport vehicles, as can be seen in studies of driver error and performance decrements (cf. Rothengatter and Vaya 1997). Fatigue has been the most researched topic in this regard. Ordinarily understood as physical exhaustion, it can also involve conditions characterized by boredom, task aversion, uncontrollable sleepiness, hypnotic trance-like states, or loss of alertness. Importantly, driving performance decrements occur before the driver is aware of the fatigue subjectively. Fatigued drivers become complacent and underestimate the effort needed to maintain driving performance. Hours of service limitations are implemented for professional drivers and pilots to guard against fatigue-related safety errors. Physiological correlates of fatigue have been studied in both driving simulator studies and open-road tests. Heart rate decreases with prolonged driving time, but results across studies have not been uniform. Focal fixation, detected by eye-tracking, is associated with fatigue, but it also occurs in conjunction with hazard perception.

Driver alertness is clearly related to collision avoidance. The driver, as an information processor, must be proficient in making time-to-collision judgments—e.g., time to collision is underestimated for smaller vehicles. Raising the rear brake light signal was a vehicle design modification to reduce rear-end collisions. The use of reflectors, warning signs to reduce speed on curves, and edge lines are road-design features intended to enhance the input of safety information. Generally, the more enriched the visual environment, the lower the underestimate of time-to-collision.

Driver expectations and interpretations, however, interact with visual information. Expectancies developed from driving experience may have adverse effects. The person may omit perceiving relevant cues or fail to give them appropriate weight in estimating a hazardous condition. ‘Driving experience’ does not guarantee expertise, as an experienced driver may have fixed expectations about how a driving situation will progress, which may interfere with accurate perceptions and interpretations of relevant cues. Driver behavior is a function of what drivers believe and feel they can do, as well as what they see and are told.

4. Driver Risk-Taking, Attitudes, Motivation, And Emotion

The study of driver performance lends itself to experimental lab analyses of perception, decision-making, and reaction time. In contrast, the research on driver risk-taking has been conducted largely by questionnaires. Driver attitudes and personality have been studied as indicators of the propensity to commit driving errors and traffic-code violations, thereby raising accident liability. Thus, rather than focus exclusively on the driver’s psychomotor or perceptual skills, attention is given to higher-order cognitive processes and motivation (cf. Rothengatter and Vaya 1997)

Self-reported violations and risky driving behavior, as assessed by driver behavior questionnaire measures, have been found to predict involvement in accidents, independent of the amount of yearly driving. Because self-evaluations of driving habits are longitudinally predictive of driving violations and accidents, it then becomes feasible to identify problematic drivers and augment their safety motives. Since these relationships hold strongly for young men, they are commonly a target group for intervention.

The most consistent finding about driver risk-taking is its association with a sensation-seeking personality, which is thought to have a biological basis. High- sensation seekers are more likely to drive drunk, exceed speed limits, take risks in passing and lane changing, not use seat belts, receive citations for traffic violations, and have crashes. These findings have been obtained in studies conducted in several European countries, Canada, and the USA.

Human behavior is highly adaptive, and drivers adjust to changes in the intrinsic safety of the driving environment. In hazardous weather, drivers slow down and sharpen alertness. Alternatively, as safety in the driving environment is enhanced through improvements in roadway conditions and vehicle design, drivers may be inclined to drive faster, shorten the distance in following, overtake more readily, or be less attentive to hazards. Therefore, improved vehicle safety features may lead some drivers to overcompensate for perceived risk reduction, driving less safely because they feel more insulated from collision or injury.

Aggressive driving and its alias ‘road rage’ have become prominent topics in the traffic-safety field in many countries (Brewer 2000, Shinar 1998). However, aggression has been part of driving since chariots careened around the Circus Maximus in ancient Rome. Indeed, the symbolization of the automobile has been infused with themes of aggression, which is evident in vehicle names and designs. Uncontrolled anger and aggression on roadways do constitute a significant driver behavior issue, but neither the magnitude of the problem nor its societal trend is clear. While human aggression springs from many causes, aggression on roadways is a product of various disinhibitory influences (Novaco 1991), such as anonymity, opportunity to escape, increasingly fortified vehicles, and strong elevations in physiological arousal produced by driving situations. The personalized territoriality of the vehicle and diffusion of roadway aggression scripts in the media also facilitate antagonism in driving when the behavior of other drivers is viewed as provoking.

5. Driver Selection, Training, And Rehabilitation

Psychologists have helped to develop aptitude tests to insure public safety on road, rail, and air travel. Driving safety has been viewed classically as involving the three ‘Es’: engineering, enforcement, and education. Accident liability is primarily due to underestimation of risks, negligence or carelessness, personality, attitudinal disposition, or substance misuse, rather than to roadway or vehicle engineering. Hence, reduction in risky driving hinges on detection of problematic drivers and on driver training and rehabilitation programs. There is wide variability across countries in how systematically this is approached.

Reconviction for traffic offenses and for serious traffic offenses have been found in New Zealand national data, gathered prospectively, to be a function of age at first conviction, being male, number of prior convictions, and having a traffic conviction as the most serious offense; moreover, statistical models have achieved high predictive power in identifying traffic offenders at high risk for reconviction for an alcohol related driving offense. In Germany, an association of psychologists has formed a commission of experts for quality management regarding driver diagnosis and improvement. In addition to developing psychological models for the prediction of re-offending drivers, their rehabilitation courses have reduced significantly drunk-driving recidivism. Such specifically targeted driver-education programs have been successful, but it has generally been found that secondary-school driver- training programs do not reduce accidents, because it is inconsequential whether young people learn to drive from relatives, friends, or schools.

6. Travel Demand And Alternative Modes Of Travel

Transport-systems planners use mathematical theories about choice in modeling travel demand, and psychological variables add to what is otherwise offered by economic models. Because choices are often grounded in perceptions and subjective valuations, psychological research methods help to ascertain the relationship between travel time and the desirability of travel-mode options or goodness-of-fit with personal needs. Travel time, cost of alternative modes, availability of mass transit, activity plans, work demands, and personal preferences are weighed by the traveler in making transportation choices.

Psychological theory has been applied to change travel behavior, such as using reinforcement theory to boost transit-ridership. Transit use has been promoted by offering cash and travel prizes through lottery-type drawings, as well as distributing value coupons and tokens (for food, goods, and services) with bulk purchases of transit passes or dispensing them to people on boarding a bus. Similarly, inducements for ridesharing have been given by providing special lanes on congested freeways for multiple-occupancy vehicles. Such schemes are more effective when the special lane has been added to the road, as opposed to when an existing lane has been converted. Other efforts to reduce solo driving have involved the provision of priority parking facilities and/or reduced parking rates for carpools and vanpools.

Embedded in the issue of transit use is its social image, particularly with regard to buses. In many countries, persons of high social status commonly do intercity travel by rail for work commutes and discretionary trips, but bus travel typically has the image of being less than prestigious. In addition, people may be disinclined to use the bus because of a desire to avoid crime victimization on the bus and at bus stops. Psychological knowledge can be utilized in modifying unfavorable images of transit use and to reduce unwarranted fears about safety risk.

7. Commuting Stress

Exposure to traffic congestion is stressful by virtue of impedance—the blocking or thwarting of movement and goal attainment. Travel impedance has both physical and perceptual dimensions (Novaco et al. 1990). ‘Physical impedance’ can be objectively measured by the distance and time of the journey, along with the number of road exchanges—each representing a node of congestion. Time of day is relevant, because congestion is greater in the evening, and commuting stress is compounded by strains from the workday. ‘Subjective impedance’ is the person’s perception of commuting constraints, assessed by questionnaire items or structured interview. Because the commute is sandwiched between the home and the job, the demands and affordances of each of these domains, as well as personality factors, bear on the commuting experience.

Commuting stress has been found to be associated with elevated blood pressure, negative mood on arrival at work, negative mood at home in the evening, lowered frustration tolerance, cognitive performance impairments, illness occasions, work absences, job instability, lowered residential satisfaction, and decrements in overall life satisfaction (Koslowsky et al. 1995). Female solo drivers in high impedance commutes are most negatively affected, independent of job-involvement and household income. Because women tend to have more logistical responsibilities for home and family, they are perhaps more sensitized to stress on high-impedance routes (Novaco et al. 1991).

A useful concept in understanding commuting stress is ‘inter-domain transfer effects,’ whereby the psychological consequences of environmental conditions in one life domain (home, commuting, work, or recreation) transfer to another, either positively or negatively (Novaco et al. 1990, 1991). An example of a positive transfer effect is that a high level of residential choice buffers commuting stress. Examples of negative transfer effects are that exposure to commuting stress affects negative mood at home in the evening, controlling for a great many other relevant variables, and that commuting stress prospectively leads to job location change, independent of job satisfaction.

Dissatisfaction with the commute is a cost the employee absorbs, often with delayed effects on health and family life. However, commuting stress affects work organizations, as well. People will change jobs to cope with traffic congestion, but commuting stress is more often manifested in illness-related absences from work and with impaired work performance.

8. Important Future Topics For Transportation Psychology

Transportation mobility restrictions present important psychological issues for a number of special populations, such as single working mothers with children, people who are physically or developmentally disabled, and the elderly. Perhaps the most important problem area will be the needs and functioning of older adults, because of the growth in that sector of the population. In the USA in 1900, people aged 65 and over accounted for 4 percent of the population. By 1990, this percentage had grown to 12.5 percent, and it is estimated that by 2030 it will be over 20 percent.

Transportation problems for the elderly are exacerbated by suburbanization and by the vast majority of older adults being accustomed to driving automobiles. Decrements in visual, cognitive, and psychomotor skills that occur progressively with aging present societal challenges in scrutinizing the driving proficiency of older adults, for whom the loss of the driving license constitutes a major stressful life event (Sandeen 1997). Without transit alternatives, older people become a transportation-deprived group. Many older adults adjust progressively to the decline in driving skills by ceasing to drive at night or avoiding turns across oncoming traffic; but such adaptations do not suffice for long, leaving a great many elderly people unable to be licensed to drive.

Advanced technologies, such as automated roadways, are expected to ease transportation difficulties for the general population, but if automotive vehicles become significantly more cognitively complex to operate, this may be disadvantageous to the elderly. It can be expected that there will be substantial societal pressure to develop innovations in transportation to meet the needs of older adults who cannot drive and who do not have access to normal transit services. The development of flexible and perhaps individualized transportation services for the elderly to facilitate grocery shopping, receiving health care, and going to religious, recreation, and cultural events is an important societal agenda that beckons for psychological input.

9. Adaptation: An Overarching Concept

A core concept in the psychology of transportation is behavioral adaptation. Drivers and transport users will adjust to conditions in the transportation environment, whether that be in their overall commuting scheme, roadway or transit conditions, vehicle conditions, or changes in skill level or state of functioning. Thus, adaptation occurs at different levels of analysis, ranging from ‘high-level’ trip and travel-mode decisions to ‘low-level’ vehicle control behaviors that maintain safety margins. When behavioral adjustments involved in adaptation are unsuccessful in the long term, more substantial behavioral coping can be expected, as when someone changes jobs to reduce commuting strain or stops driving because of age-related driving skill decrements. Innovations in information technology, by decreasing the need for vehicle trips, may progressively facilitate adaptation to travel constraints imposed by congested roadways and to unwanted reductions in mobility for some populations.


  1. Altman I, Wohlwill J F, Everett P B 1981 Transportation and Behavior. Plenum, New York
  2. Barjonet P 1997 Transport psychology in Europe: A general overview. In: Rothengatter T, Carbonell-Vaya E C (eds.) Traffic and Transport Psychology: Theory and Application. Pergamon, New York, Chap. 2, pp. 21–30
  3. Brewer A M 2000 Road rage: what, who, when, where, and how? Transport Reviews 20: 49–64
  4. Grieco M, Pickup L, Whipp R 1989 Gender, Transport, and Employment: The Impact of Tra el Constraints. Avebury, Aldershot, Hampshire, UK
  5. Koslowsky M, Kluger A V, Reich M 1995 Commuting Stress: Causes, Effects, and Methods of Coping. Plenum, New York
  6. Mokhtarian P L 1990 A typology of relationships between telecommunications and transportation. Transportation Research-A 24: 231–42
  7. Novaco R W 1991 Aggression on roadways. In: Baenninger R (ed.) Targets of Violence and Aggression. Elsevier, North Holland, The Netherlands, Chap. 7, pp. 253–326
  8. Novaco R W, Stokols D, Milanesi L 1990 Objective and subjective dimensions of travel impedance as determinants of commuting stress. American Journal of Community Psychology 18: 231–57
  9. Novaco R W, Kliewer W, Broquet A 1991 Home environmental consequences of commute travel impedance. American Journal of Community Psychology 19: 881–909
  10. Pisarski A E 1987 Commuting in America: National Report on Commuting Patterns and Trends. Eno Foundation for Transportation, Westport, CT
  11. Rosenbloom S 1992 Why working families need a car. In: Wachs M, Crawford M (eds.) The Car and the City: The Automobile, the Built Environment, and Daily Urban Life. University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, MI, Chap. 4, pp. 39–56
  12. Rothengatter T, Vaya E C (eds.) 1997 Traffic and Transport Psychology: Theory and Application. Pergamon, New York
  13. Sandeen B A 1997 Transportation experiences of suburban older adults: Implications of the loss of driver’s license for psychological well-being, health, and mobility. Ph.D. thesis, University of California
  14. Shinar D 1998 Aggressive driving: the contribution of the drivers and the situation. Transportation Research part F 1: 137–60
  15. Stokols D, Novaco R W 1981 Transportation and well-being. In: Altman I, Wohlwill J F, Everett P B (eds.) Transportation and Behavior. Plenum, New York, Chap. 4, pp. 85–130
  16. Wachs M, Crawford M (eds.) 1992 The Car and the City: The Automobile, the Built Environment, and Daily Urban Life. University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, MI
Transportation, Supply, And Congestion Research Paper
Transportation Planning Research Paper


Always on-time


100% Confidentiality
Special offer! Get discount 10% for the first order. Promo code: cd1a428655