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A TOYOTA PODCAST, part of the company’s Toyota Untold series, is devoted to “The Psychology of Driving,” June 21, 2021. It features two researchers, both psychology Ph.D.s, discussing their work at Toyota.

John Lenneman is a Senior Principal Research Scientist in Toyota’s Collaborative Safety Research Center. He has been with the company for almost five years and in the auto industry for about 20 years. Colleague Josh Domeyer is a Research Scientist at CSRC since 2011, when this Toyota group was formed. 

Their Field. The field of Human Factors goes by several other names, including Engineering Psychology, Ergonomics, Cognitive Ergonomics, Usability, and sometimes Universal Design. A couple of these appeared here at SimanaitisSays.  

Toyota’s researchers say their goal is to fit technology to humans through developing theories of our cognitive capabilities, perceptional limitations, and behavior.  

John Lenneman, Senior Principal Research Scientist, Toyota Collaborative Safety Research Center.]

Theory Versus Application. In applying human behavioral theory to application, Lenneman identifies an interesting question: “To what extent do people actually have to understand the technology in order to use it correctly? And that applies to essentially everything. You don’t understand how your cellphone works in super, super great detail.”

Familiarity Helps. One example he cites is adaptive cruise control, increasingly available in cars. Drivers tend to accept it, without knowing its technical nuances, because of familiarity using traditional cruise control. 

More subtle, though, are behaviorally uncharted realms, technologies such as autonomous lane-centering and accident avoidance. The latter is all the more uncharted because it’s rarely invoked (akin to ABS, antilock braking). 

Lenneman and Domeyer note that technology tends to move quicker than behavioral science. What’s more, I suspect machine learning of the latter is hampered by a paucity of data. By contrast, the researchers note, enhancements of virtual-reality hardware have been helpful.

Josh Domeyer, Research Scientist, Toyota Collaborative Safety Research Center.

VR and Pedestrian Safety. As an example, Domeyer says that VR gives opportunity to immerse pedestrians into otherwise potentially deadly environments: “Somebody has that VR headset on, and what they’re seeing is a vehicle approaching them and they have to make a decision about whether or not to cross the road.” 

Domeyer observes, “… there’s a lot of theory about how the human eye perceives the world and how you make decisions based on that information. So, … as something approaches you, it expands in your visual field, right? You feel a threat, because that’s coming toward you.”

Thus, he says, “… now that we understand the psychology of this, what does it mean for how you design this technology?” 

A human driver may acknowledge the pedestrian’s presence with eye contact or a nod, thus mitigating the perceived threat, But what about response of an AV (autonomous vehicle)? 

Domeyer suggests, “So, you have turn signals right now. You might think of a new system… that informs pedestrians when they should cross the road…” Sort of an AV nod or something. 

Roadmanship. AV analogues of human behavior arise in car-to-car interactions. Lenneman says, “With the University of Michigan, we’re doing some research in an area called roadmanship.” Introduced by the RAND Corporation a few years ago, “it’s essentially just adding a layer of courtesy on top of safety…. We don’t want our automated vehicles to make other drivers feel nervous, for example.”

Part of this research involved a New Hampshire traffic circle, with the inevitable matter of rights of way. Another aspect explored tail-gating versus closing the gap. The researchers envision these studies as translating driver behavior into behavior theory, then applying this to AV technology.

Mixed-fleet Society. What about a future filled with AVs? Lenneman says, “I think a lot of companies might say that’s the goal. But the reality is it’s ways away.” Instead, he predicts a mixed-fleet society, human drivers interacting with AVs of varying technological levels.

Lenneman also raises an interesting matter of policy: “… how they’ll handle someone that wants to drive their 60s’, 70s’ muscle car.” Or a 1990 Miata. ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2021 


  1. Valter Prieto Jr
    July 27, 2021

    Very interesting subject. If they need some volunteer with more than 3 decades driving experience I can help, as I live in Ann Arbor, pretty near Toyota Research Institute and Tech Center. I never used a cruise control. It profoundly annoys me.

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