I attended the excellent UX Brighton goes for a Spin event last night, and the 2nd speaker, Dr Nick Reed from TRL, told us of a driving simulation experiment that they’d run that made me question whether my user awareness is everyone’s responsibility theory is too narrow in scope.

He had told us about SARTRE, the car train research work that is being done by the EU (video concept here). This is the idea that driving would be safer if you had a professional lead driver, and all other following vehicles passed control to that lead driver. They would all follow each other at a safe distance and mimic their leader. From the project’s about page

The programme will address the 3 cornerstones of transportation issues, environment, safety and congestion while at the same time encouraging driver acceptance through the increased “driver comfort”. The programme is addressing a concept that as a whole will facilitate a step change in the use of private transportation. The consideration of how platoons interact with other non-platoon users is a critical facet of the programme. This programme has a significant element of research that is looking into this aspect and this will provide clear strategies that will be implemented in the prototype system.

So safety and driver comfort is considered, and they also mention “how platoons interact with other non-platoon users” which I assume means the other road users who are not in the train. What would be the effect on them? Beyond the more obvious questions of how would people join or leave and how would people overtake, or enter/exit a motorway when a road train is steaming past (assuming the train is in the left hand (UK) lane) what would the affect be on the behaviour of other road users?

Nick told us of a driving simulation experiment they had run to look into this. Their findings (which I can’t find a reference for annoyingly) seemed to suggest that if there was a convoy of vehicles who were all positioned closer together than the standard 2 second rule, other road users would also drive closer together. They would mimic the behaviour of the cars in the road train, but without their car being controlled by a lead driver, therefore putting themselves, and other road users, at greater risk than normal.

So, in this case, because of the seriousness and potential ramifications of the system, the awareness can’t just be on the person in the car train but needs to be wider covering all other road users, including those not necessarily in scope for the product/service, but impacted by it.

Gosh, this is getting complicated…