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Microscopic Modeling of Driver Behavior Based on Modifying Field Theory for Work Zone Application

Because many freeways in the U.S. and abroad are being reconstructed or rehabilitated, it becomes increasingly important to plan and design freeway work zones with the utmost in safety and efficiency. Central to the effective design of work zones is being able to understand how drivers behave as they approach and enter a work zone area. While simple and complex microscopic models have been used over the years to analyze driver behavior, most models were not designed for application in work zones and thus do not capture the interdependencies between lane-changing and car-following vehicle movements along with the drivers’ cognitive and physical characteristics. With the use of psychology’s field theory, this dissertation develops a framework for creating vector-based, explanatory, deterministic microscopic models, to enhance our understanding of driver behavior in work zones and better aid freeway planners and designers. In field theory, an agent (i.e. the driver) views a field (i.e. the area surrounding the vehicle) filled with stimuli and perceives forces associated with each stimuli once these stimuli are internalized. Based on this theory, the new modeling framework, Modified Field Theory (MFT), is designed to directly incorporate drivers’ perceptions to roadway stimuli along with vehicle movements for drivers of different cognitive and physical abilities. From this framework, specific microscopic models, such as a simple freeway work zone car following model, can be created. It is postulated that models derived from this framework would more accurately reflect the driver decision-making process, naturally modeling the effects of external stimuli such as innovative geometric configurations, lane closures, and technology applications such as variable message boards. A simple freeway work zone car following model was created using the MFT framework. Two MFT car-following agents were created and calibrated. The second agent (Agent 2) followed the first agent (Agent 1) through a one-lane segment of freeway. Car-following data for Agent 2 was plotted on a graph of relative speed vs. distance to the lead vehicle, showing car-following behavior. Car-following behavior for Agent 2 was validated against Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Turner Fairbank Highway Research Center (TFHRC) Living Laboratory data for simple freeway work zone car-following (Driver 15). The car-following behavior of Agent 2 replicated the “spiraling” trend observed in Driver 15. Unlike other models (such as Wiedemann), this model does not ‘force’ these trends to occur; these trends occur naturally, as a result of the perception-reaction time delay and the nature of the forces involved. Additionally, unusual car following trends reported for Driver 15 were replicated in Modified Field Theory when conditions surrounding each event were synthetically recreated. Results demonstrated that the Modified Field Theory framework can successfully replicate the process by which a driver scans the driving environment and reacts to their surroundings. Microscopic models can successfully be created using this framework. Results demonstrated that models created from this framework naturally recreate behavioral trends observed in empirical data, and that these models are capable of replicating driving behavior in unusual scenarios, such as the car following behavior of a subject vehicle when the lead vehicle has a strong sudden acceleration event. Before this model can be applied to work zones, other calibration and validation efforts are required.