The measurement of drivers' mental workload

Research output: ThesisThesis fully internal (DIV)

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Driving a vehicle may seem to be a fairly simple task. After some initial training many people are able to handle a car safely. Nevertheless, accidents do occur and the majority of these accidents can be attributed to human failure. At present there are factors that may even lead to increased human failure in traffic. Firstly, owing in part to increased welfare, the number of vehicles on the road is increasing. Increased road intensity leads to higher demands on the human information processing system and an increased likelihood of vehicles colliding. Secondly, people continue to drive well into old age. Elderly people suffer from specific problems in terms of divided attention performance, a task that is more and more required in traffic. One of the causes of these increased demands is the introduction of new technology into the vehicle. It began with a car radio, was followed by car-phones and route guidance systems, and will soon be followed by collision avoidance systems, intelligent cruise controls and so on. All these systems require drivers’ attention to be divided between the system and the primary task of longitudinal and lateral vehicle control. Thirdly, drivers in a diminished state endanger safety on the road. Longer journeys are planned and night time driving increases for economic purposes and/or to avoid congestions. Driver fatigue is currently an important factor in accident causation. But not only lengthy driving affects driver state, a diminished driver state can also be the result of the use of alcohol or (medicinal) sedative drugs. The above-mentioned examples have in common that in all cases driver workload is affected. An increase in traffic density increases the complexity of the driving task. Additional systems in the vehicle add to task complexity. A reduced driver state affects the ability to deal with these demands. How to assess this, i.e. how to assess driver mental workload is the main theme of this thesis. In chapter 1, the theoretical aspects of mental workload are introduced. The difference between task demand, i.e. the external demand, the goals that have to be reached, and (work)load, i.e. the individual reaction to these demands, receive attention in this chapter. Mental workload is defined as a relative concept; it is the ratio of demand to allocated resources. Task difficulty is explicitly separated from task complexity. Task complexity would have been an objective property of the task that is related to demand on computational processes, were it not dependent upon individual goal setting. Task difficulty is very much dependent upon the context and the individual. Applied strategies may affect resource allocation or task complexity and thus difficulty and mental workload.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • University of Groningen
  • Rothengatter, J.A., Supervisor
  • Meijman, T.F., Supervisor
  • Brookhuis, Karel, Supervisor
Award date6-Jun-1996
Print ISBNs9068073087
Publication statusPublished - 1996


  • Proefschriften (vorm)
  • functieleer: overige; Mentale belasting, Autorijden, Chauffe

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