Interdependence of driver and pedestrian behavior in naturalistic roadway behavior

by Adam Felts

When the driver of a car and a pedestrian encounter each other at a crossing (or an opportune jaywalking spot), a complex social interaction occurs. Driver and walker are simultaneously competitors – trying to claim contested space on the road – and collaborators – mutually aiming to avoid a collision.

AgeLab postdoctoral associate Zach Noonan has published a paper in Traffic Injury Prevention that studies how drivers and pedestrians navigate these events. Dr. Noonan utilizes the AgeLab’s trove of naturalistic driving data, captured as part of the Advanced Vehicle Technologies consortium, to examine these incidents. AgeLab researchers Pnina Gershon, Bruce Mehler, and Bryan Reimer are co-authors of the paper.

At “undesignated” crossings – areas with no crosswalk or other notation for pedestrians to cross – driver and walker are interdependent on each other in their behaviors. That is, each actor plays a role in guiding the other’s behavior.  At “designated” but “unprotected” crossings, such as a crosswalk without a stoplight, drivers appear to be influenced by the pedestrian’s behavior in their behavior, while pedestrians act relatively independently of the driver – perhaps using the crossing instead as the prescriber for their behavior. And in more formalized and rules-based environments, such as when traffic lights are present at an intersection, neither driver and walker depend on each other, instead using the infrastructure to guide their behavior.

These findings point toward the role of importance of context in determining appropriate behavior and decision-making on public roads, and have implications for the development of advanced vehicle technologies – especially for those uncertain situations when computer and human must interact with each other.

Learn more about the paper here.

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About the Author

Photo of Adam Felts
Adam Felts

Adam Felts is a researcher and writer at the MIT AgeLab. Currently he is involved in research on the experiences of family caregivers and the future of financial advice. He also manages the AgeLab blog and newsletter. He received his Master's in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Boston University in 2014 and his Master's of Theological Studies from Boston University in 2019.

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