A generic multi-level framework for microscopic traffic simulation: Theory and an example case in modelling driver distraction

J. W.C. van Lint*, S. C. Calvert

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)
35 Downloads (Pure)


Incorporation of more sophisticated human factors (HF) in mathematical models for driving behavior has become an increasingly popular and important research direction in the last few years. Such models enable us to simulate under which conditions perception errors and risk-taking lead to interactions that result in unsafe traffic conditions and ultimately accidents. In this paper, we present a generic multi-level microscopic traffic modelling and simulation framework that supports this important line of research. In this framework, the driving task is modeled in a multi-layered fashion. At the highest level, we have idealized (collision-free) models for car following and other driving tasks. These models typically contain HF parameters that exogenously “govern the human factor”, such as reaction time, sensitivities to stimuli, desired speed, etc. At the lowest level, we define HF variables (task demand and capacity, awareness) with which we maintain what the information processing costs are of performing driving tasks as well as non-driving related tasks such as distractions. We model these costs using so-called fundamental diagrams of task demand. In between, we define functions that govern the dynamics of the high-level HF parameters with these HF variables as inputs. When total task demand increases beyond task capacity, first awareness may deteriorate, where we use Endsley's three-level awareness construct to differentiate between effects on perception, comprehension, anticipation and reaction time. Secondly, drivers may adapt their response in line with Fullers risk allostasis theory to reduce risk to acceptable levels. This framework can be viewed as a meta model, that provides the analyst possibilities to combine and mix a wide variety of microscopic models for driving behavior at different levels of sophistication, depending on which HF are studied, and which phenomena need to be reproduced. We illustrate the framework with a distraction (rubbernecking) case. Our results show that the framework results in endogenous mechanisms for inter- and intra-driver differences in driving behavior and can generate multiple plausible HF mechanisms to explain the same observable traffic phenomena and congestion patterns that arise due to the distraction. We believe our framework can serve as a valuable tool in testing hypotheses related to the effects of HF on traffic efficiency and traffic safety in a systematic way for both the traffic flow and HF community.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)63-86
Number of pages24
JournalTransportation Research Part B: Methodological
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2018


  • Distraction
  • Human factors
  • Task-Capacity-Interface model
  • Traffic simulation framework
  • Workload


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