Acclimatizing to automation: Driver workload and stress during partially automated car following in real traffic

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Automated driving systems are increasingly prevalent on public roads, but there is currently little knowledge on the level of workload and stress of drivers operating an automated vehicle in a real environment. The present study aimed to measure driver workload and stress during partially automated driving in real traffic. We recorded heart rate, heart rate variability, respiratory rate, and subjective responses of nine test drivers in the Tesla Model S with Autopilot. The participants, who were experienced with driver assistance systems but naïve to the Tesla, drove a 32 min motorway route back and forth while following a lead car in regular traffic. In one of the two drives, participants performed a heads-up detection task of bridges they went underneath. Averaged across the two drives, the participants’ mean self-reported overall workload score on the NASA Task Load Index was 19%. Moreover, the participants showed a reduction in heart rate and self-reported workload over time, suggesting that the participants became accustomed to the experiment and technology. The mean hit (i.e., pressing the button near a bridge) rate in the detection task was 88%. In conclusion, driving with the Tesla Autopilot on a motorway involved a low level of workload that decreased with time on task.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)503-517
Number of pages15
JournalTransportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Automated driving
  • Object detection
  • On-road
  • Stress
  • Workload

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