Effect of traffic density on drivers’ lane change and overtaking maneuvers in freeway situation—A driving simulator–based study

Objective: The aim of this study is to examine the effect of traffic density on drivers’ lane change and overtaking maneuvers. The differences between drivers’ left and right lane changing/overtaking maneuvers were also investigated.

Method: A driving simulator experiment was conducted and 24 participants took part in this experiment. Based on the driving simulation data, lane change frequency, time duration, average speed, and acceleration were extracted as key variables of lane change maneuvers; overtaking frequency, overtaking duration, initial overtaking distance and headway, instantaneous speed, and acceleration before overtaking were analyzed as the key overtaking variables. One-way repeated measures analysis of variance (ANOVA), the Friedman test, and the Wilcoxon signed rank test were adopted for hypothesis tests with a significance level of .05. Further pairwise comparisons were performed with a Bonferroni correction for multiple comparisons.

Results: Some significant differences in lane change and overtake behaviors were observed among different traffic densities: (1) both lane change and overtaking frequencies significantly increase with traffic density; (2) the average lane change acceleration and instantaneous overtaking acceleration significantly increase with traffic density; (3) as the traffic density increases, the initial overtaking distance and headway decrease. As for the effect of the directions of maneuvers, the (1) time duration of lane change and overtaking from the right side was significantly shorter than that from the left side; (2) right initial overtaking distance/headway was smaller than that of the left side; (3) right instantaneous overtaking acceleration was significantly higher than the left instantaneous acceleration.

Conclusions: The results showed that as traffic density increases, drivers’ lane changing and overtaking intentions are enhanced. Both initial overtaking distance and headway decrease with traffic density, which might influence road safety. In addition, drivers do not show a preference on the directions of lane change or overtaking according to frequency. However, drivers tend to be more decisive and reckless when overtaking on the right because of a smaller distance/headway before overtaking, higher instantaneous acceleration, and a more restricted field of view compared with overtaking on the left.