Cost-Benefit Analysis of Traffic Studies with Driving Simulators

A research driving simulator can provide detailed, controlled, and repeatable conditions for experiments that would be impractical or dangerous in real life, making it a popular tool in traffic management and road safety studies. Driving simulators improve road safety and efficiency, but their deployment is expensive and requires a cost-benefit analysis.

Driving simulators range from low-cost PC systems with essential software to high-end installations with 360-degree screens, authentic car cabins, motion bases, and advanced telemetry sensors that simulate automobile movement over different terrains. Leading simulators require significant initial investments. Depending on simulation complexity and quality, installation expenses, including hardware and software, can exceed several million dollars.

Operational expenditures also dominate total spending. These include hardware and software maintenance, traffic study-based driving scenario updates, and simulator energy expenditures. Operating complex simulators, creating unique scenarios, and evaluating data require trained individuals. Personnel costs generally dominate the operating budget.

Despite these costs, driving simulators benefit traffic studies greatly. First, simulators allow participants and the public to study dangerous driving conditions without risk. This is especially important when testing extreme driving situations like limited visibility or high traffic during construction, which are hazardous to mimic on real roads.

Simulators can also be employed in several investigations without the expense of real-world assessments. This includes the capacity to swiftly change test conditions and environments to investigate more situations than in a physical setting. Simulators allow researchers to evaluate new traffic signals or road layouts at different times of day and under varied weather situations, providing valuable data for decision-making.

Simulators provide more accurate and repeatable data than on-road evaluations. The controlled environment assures that data variability comes mostly from test conditions rather than external sources, which improves study outcomes. Traffic laws and regulations that will enhance road safety and efficiency require such data.

Public engagement and education are further advantages. Driving simulators can train and test drivers in emergency braking, hazard recognition, and autonomous vehicle use. This training increases driver readiness for real-world driving, reducing accidents and improving public safety.

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