Human Factors Experts Evaluate Inadequate Signage Leading to Automotive Accident


Human Factors Expert WitnessThis case involves a multi-car accident in Massachusetts. On the morning of the accident, the plaintiffs were idling on a highway on-ramp, as traffic was backed up following an earlier accident. Their vehicle was in a work zone, and there were road work construction signs preparing the road user in advance of certain aspects of the road work. However, no signage was placed on this particular ramp. A large tractor trailer entered the ramp and hit the plaintiff which cause a chain reaction of multiple cars being hit as well. According to multiple witnesses, there were not any signs indicating the construction or lane closure.

Question(s) For Expert Witness

  • 1. How does road signs or lack there of effect driving tendencies in drivers?
  • 2. Have you reviewed similar cases?

Expert Witness Response E-075269

My specific areas of expertise include cognitive processes, multi-tasking, usability of technologies and methods to improve quality and safety of work. I have published over 20 papers in internationally recognized journals specifically focusing on safety, human information processing, system and user interface design and implementation, and reduction of errors. In processes involving divided attention and multi-tasking, it is imperative to provide advance warning systems for any changes in the status quo. How far in advance appropriate signage should be provided depends on the severity (for example, a single-lane versus multiple-lane closure) and urgency (for example a suddenly occurring congestion due to a traffic crash versus ongoing congestion due to construction), but signs should clearly indicate the nature of the change and be clearly visible. Signs generally indicating ongoing construction may be insufficient as different drivers may perceive general statements differently and with different levels of alertness and driving speed. Signs more specifically indicating traffic backup and similar incidences would almost certainly keep drivers more alert, result in reduced speed and prevent crashes. Based on the limited facts presented in this case, the lack of appropriate signage appears to be a safety issue and to have caused an easily preventable crash.

Expert Witness Response E-074769

I am a human factors, vision, decision-making, and errors errors consultant for almost 30 years. I have dealt with the human factors of visually guided behaviors for most of my career. I am a former faculty member for a major university, technical warrant holder for human systems integration for the U.S. Navy, and am currently chief of human performance at a major governmental organization. I have many publications, presentations, awards in this particular area. Driving tendencies, and, therefore, the utility of roadway signs, are determined by the individual’s familiarity with the roadway. A driver familiar with the roadway or, at least, the roadway configuration tends to navigate according to past experience and posted guidance. However, a responsible driver unfamiliar with the roadway tends to rely heavily on posted guidance and the visible ground situation.

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