Minimum and comfortable driving headways: Reality versus perception

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166 Scopus citations


A field study was conducted to evaluate drivers' actual headways in car-following situations, their relationship to the drivers' brake reaction times, and their relationship to the drivers' ability to estimate those headways using different metrics. Drivers were asked to maintain "minimum safe distance" and "comfortable, normal distance with no intention to pass" behind the car ahead. The lead car speeds varied from 50 to 100 km/hr. The results showed that under both sets of instructions, drivers adjusted their distance headways in relation to speed, maintaining constant time headways. A significant portion of the drivers maintained time headways that are considered unsafe in relation to drivers' reaction times. There was no significant relationship between the minimal headways maintained by the drivers and their brake reaction times under conditions of maximum attention and preparedness to apply brakes. Accuracy of spoken estimates of headways varied widely among the three measures used to report perceived headway; meters and car lengths yielded much lower estimates (and ones closer to the actual headways) than did seconds. The results have implications for headway perception, driving safety, driver education, and smart cruise-control design.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)159-172
Number of pages14
JournalHuman Factors
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2001

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Human Factors and Ergonomics
  • Applied Psychology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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