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Journal of Safety Research, Vol. 26, No. I. pp.

49-56, 1995
Pergamon Copyright Q 1995 National Safety Council and Elsevier Science Ltd
Frintedin the USA. All rights reserved
0022-4375/95 $9.50 + .I0


Factors Affecting Drivers Choice of Speed on

Roadway Curves

George Kanellaidis

Vehicle speeds depend on factors relating to drivers, vehicles, and the

roadway environment. Operational studies show that curvature is the
roadway element that is most successful in predicting vehicle speeds. If,
however, a causative explanation of drivers behavior is sought, then attitude
surveys are more appropriate than traffic observations. This paper features a
survey of 207 Greek drivers who were asked to rate 14 elements of the road
environment as to how importantly these influence their choice of speed on
interurban road curves. A comparison of responses between drivers who
claimed to obey speed limits (nonviolators) and those who claimed not to
(violators) shows that the latter gave significantly lower ratings to all types of
signing and were generally less restricted by roadway elements in choosing
their speed. Factor analysis of the data indicates that speed choice on curves
can be described by four road-environment factors: separation of opposing
traffic; cross-section characteristics; alignment; and signing. Separate analyses
show that nonviolators are primarily influenced by the signing factor in
choosing their speed on curves, while violators speed is chiefly determined
by the road-layout factor. These findings suggest that speed reduction, where
necessary, could be brought about by provision of reliable signing as well as
safe and consistent low-speed alignment. The four factors identified by the
analysis correspond to the findings of driver-behavior studies, indicating that
attitude surveys can be used as a reliable aid in forming and evaluating
relevant policies, whether at a local or a strategic level.

INTRODUCTION this freedom, which is not found in other

means of transport. For business or commut-
Car travel is associated with the freedom it ing trips in particular, minimizing travel time
offers to travelers in choosing when, by which seems to have priority over other objectives;
route, and how fast they will travel. The car hence the incentive to drive faster. Speed also
culture of todays world (Marsh & Collett, appears to have an intrinsic value (Hale,
1986) can be attributed, to a large extent, to 1990) for many people, who simply want to
drive fast for the excitement it offers, regard-
less of trip purpose.
George Kanellaidis is an Assistant Professor in the Still, there are various limits to attainable
Department of Transportation Planning and Engineering at speeds. Technical limits are determined by a
the National Technical University of Athens (NTUA). He
received his PhD in Transport&ion from the NTUA in
vehicle engines horsepower. Speeds on
1984. His research interests include highway geometric curves should not exceed certain values above
design, human factors in transportation, and traffic safety. which the risk of running off road is greatly

Spring 1995Nolume 26hVumber I 49

increased. Speed may be further constrained research (e.g., Lamm, Guenther, & Choueiri,
by the drivers themselves, in choosing to 1992) focuses on producing speed-prediction
drive at a speed they consider safe and com- formulae for individual curves. These relation-
fortable. Models for estimating limiting ships have the advantage of being both simple
speeds as a function of the above parameters and of sufficient predictive power (R2 ranging
have been developed (Elkins & Semrau, generally from .75 to .95). They have the gen-
1988). In addition to these factors, authorities eral form of Vss = a - j3(l/R), where Vss is the
often consider it desirable to impose limits on 85th-percentile speed, R is the curve radius,
vehicle speeds in order to reduce such adverse and cx and /3 are parameters (Taragin, 1954;
effects as: (a) probability and severity of Lamm & Choueiri, 1987). Some linear equa-
crashes; (b) noise; (c) pollution; and (d) fuel tions include powers of (l/R) as additional
consumption (Transportation Research Board regressors: for example, ( 1/R)2 (McLean,
[TRB], 1984; Hale, 1990). 1981) or (lIR).5 (Kanellaidis, Golias, &
If speed is to be controlled, the main two Efstathiadis, 1990). Recent studies (Lamm et
options (Hale, 1990) are: (a) to take the al., 1992) have also produced exponential rela-
choice of speed away from the driver (e.g., tionships of the type Vss = a + P.e-YDC, where
through use of automatic speed-governing DC is degree of curve (proportional to l/R).
devices or built-in limits in engine design); or Lane width is also generally found to influ-
(b) to indirectly influence speed and driving ence speeds; however, there is only a narrow
behavior in general via the drivers them- range of possible lane widths, and thus it is
selves. Obviously the former approach will often more convenient to produce different
have to overcome considerable hurdles, since relationships for various lane or carriageway
it will involve restrictions on driver (and widths (Lamm & Choueiri, 1987; RAS-L-1,
motor-industry) freedom. The latter option 1984) or for different types of road, such as 2-
will require thorough research into the factors lane, 4-lane single, or dual carriageway
affecting choice of speed. (Gambard & Louah, 1986; Mintsis, 1988).
Car travel involves an interaction between Certain other elements are usually found to
driver, vehicle, and road environment; in a be correlated to curvature. These include sign-
similar fashion, a drivers free speed (defined ing (Lamm & Choueiri, 1987), superelevation
as the speed chosen in the absence of other rate (Lamm, Choueiri, Hayward, & Paluri,
traffic) depends on characteristics of these 1988), and sight distance (Taragin, 1954). The
three factors. As conventional driver-behavior effect of the above elements on speeds cannot
research usually involves observation of mov- be easily quantified. In addition, there is no
ing vehicles, it is not easy to take note of driv- universal agreement on the exact effect of gra-
er and vehicle characteristics. Indeed, it is not dient on speeds. Gambard and Louah (1986)
possible to know the personal or socioeco- found that Vg5 is unvaried on downgrade sec-
nomic characteristics of drivers; nor can the tions, while average speeds decrease; Yagar
engines horsepower and condition be deter- and van Aerde (1983) showed, on the other
mined by a simple observation. Only vehicle hand, that average speeds are significantly
type can be accounted for (e.g., in producing increased on downgrades. In both studies,
separate speed-prediction relationships for speeds were found to decrease on upgrades.
cars and trucks). Typically, research has aimed Other studies (e.g., Reinfurt, Zegeer, Shelton,
to identify correlations between operating & Neuman, 1992) show no significant effect
speeds and road-design characteristics, treat- whatsoever of gradient on speed.
ing the effect of the other two factors as ran- Typically, research has focused on observa-
dom variation. tions of driver behavior; however, if one is
Curvature is the design element most con- interested in the reasons behind speed choice,
sistently found to be correlated to operating conventional measurements are not sufficient.
speeds. Although it has been argued (McLean, Correlations between speed and predictor
1979, 1981; Yagar & van Aerde, 1983) that variables do not necessarily offer causative
operating speeds are affected by the character- explanations of speed choice. Use of attitude
istics of a preceding section of road, recent surveys can help provide some answers to

50 Journal of Safety Research

why car drivers choose certain speeds in cer- self vs. other analysis of reasons for speed-
tain situations, as well as to how effectively ing; and (c) road-environment factors that
their speed choice could be influenced. affect choice of speed, in the drivers view.
Carefully designed interviews that focus on The results regarding Parts a and b of the sur-
minimizing biases can ensure that expressed vey are dealt with in a separate paper
attitudes will give a fairly accurate picture of (Kanellaidis, Golias, & Zarifopoulos, 1995).
true attitudes (Myers, 1983). It should not be This paper focuses on speed-choice factors on
forgotten, however, that the aim is to affect interurban-road curves. In addition to the
drivers behavior. Influencing attitudes may or analysis carried out for the full sample, sepa-
may not bring about the desired change, since rate analyses were made for those who stated
the link between attitudes and behavior is far that they obey speed limits always or most
from straightforward. of the time (a subgroup labelled nonviola-
The objective of this paper is to investigate tars for ease of reference) and those who
the factors determining choice of speed on stated that they seldom or never obey
interurban road curves, as seen from the limits (violators for short).
drivers viewpoint, as well as to assess their Fourteen elements of the road environment,
relative importance. In addition, an attempt is for which there was evidence in literature of
made to examine whether drivers attitudes being related to vehicle speeds, were selected
toward speed limits are associated with differ- for the questionnaire and coded El to El4
ences in the above factors and to suggest (Table 1). Respondents were asked to rate
effective means to influence choice of speed. each element on a 0 to 10 scale, showing its
importance, in their view, in influencing speed
choice on curves. Zero stood for no impor-
DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS tant influence on speed choice and 10 for
very important influence on speed choice.
Data were collected through the comple- Table 1 also shows the mean ratings for the
tion of a specially-prepared questionnaire. 14 elements. They all exceed 5.0. On top of
Copies of the questionnaire were distributed the list are sight distance, pavement condition,
to a sample of randomly-selected drivers to sharp curvature, and additional warning sign-
be completed in the absence of any interview- ing, all rated above 8.0 on average. Least
er and to be collected by a specific date. Two decisive are existence of free roadside space
hundred and seven fully completed question- and speed-limit signing.
naires were collected in this way. The issues Of the four top-rated elements, curvature,
addressed were the following: (a) drivers sight distance, and additional warning signing
attitudes toward speed-limit violations; (b) have also emerged in driving-behavior studies


Element (code) Description of element Mean RatlnQ Rank

El Pavement condWon 8.34 2

E2 Number of traffic lanes 7.11 10
E3 _.........,.,. Lane width 6.72 12
E4 .._._.... Existence of free roadside space 5.62 14
E5 Existence of median 7.60 6
E6 Existence of safety barrwrs 7 44 7
E7 .:: :::::: Sharp curvature 8.31 3
E6 Standard curve-warning signmg 7.78 5
E9 Additional warnmg signing 8.09 4
El0 Speed-limit slgnmg 5.78 13
El1 SuperelevatIon 7.33 8
El2 Sight distance 8.64 1
El3 :: ::: Length of curve 7.23 9
El4 ...,.., Gradient 7.06 11

Spring 1995Nohne 26/Nutnber I 51

(Taragin, 1954; Lamm & Choueiri, 1987) as implies that drivers who dont obey speed lim-
significant determinants of speed. As the latter its probably feel less constrained by the road
two are collinear to curvature, the attitude sur- environment in selecting their speed on curves.
vey seems to confii the role of curvature as a Spearmans rank correlation test (Daniel,
primary determinant of operating speeds. 1990) showed that the rankings resulting from
Pavement condition does not usually show up the group averages of variables are signifi-
in speed behavior studies, probably because it cantly correlated; Spearmans rank-correlation
is assumed to be standard throughout the road coefficient (rho) is .84, which is statistically
network. It should be noted that pavement con- significant at a = 0.01. Therefore, the evalua-
dition is a broad term that implies skid resis- tion of speed determinants is not radically dif-
tance as well as surface discontinuities, rough- ferent between violators and nonviolators.
ness, and quality of ride. Elkins and Semrau As it was aimed to determine the dimen-
(1988) did identify pavement roughness as a sions of thought* regarding drivers speed
speed limiting factor, by using a present ser- choice, factor analysis (Norusis, 1988) was
viceability rating in the formula for determining the preferred procedure because it gives the
the maximum allowable ride severity speed. possibility of reducing a large number of vari-
For violators and nonviolators alike (Table 2), ables to a smaller number of principal factors.
sight distance was the highest-rated variable, Each variable can then be expressed as a lin-
with identical mean ratings for both groups ear function of these factors. The coefficients
(8.64). However, for nonviolators four other ele- of the factors in the (standardized) regression
ments are rated above 8.0 on average; these are: equation are known as the factor loadings. As
curvature, additional warning signing, standard the number of factors is lower than that of the
bend-warning signing, and pavement condition. original variables, it is typical for a factor to
For the average violator, only curvature and have high loadings on a number of variables;
pavement condition were rated higher than 8.0. it can then be said that the factor is associated
Table 2 also shows the results of normal to these variables.
tests for comparing the two groups ratings. The suitability of the data for factor analysis
Significant differences are observed in all was first established by two standard tests: the
three signing-related variables, and also in gra- Kaiser-Meyer-Olkin (KM@ measure of sam-
dient, where all four are rated higher by non- pling adequacy, and Bartletts test of sphericity
violators. On the whole, nonviolators tend to (a chi-squared test). If KM0 > 0.5and
give higher ratings to most elements than do p(=2) c 0.01, the sample is suitable for factor
violators (overall rating average for nonvi- analysis. Both tests (see Table 3) gave satisfac-
olators is 7.55; for violators it is 7.02); this tory results and thus the analysis proceeded.


Average Rating

Element Non-violators Violators Difference Z-statistic

El ............... 8.21 8.58 -0.37 -1.42

E2 .............. 7.16 7.01 0.15 0.41
E3 .............. 6.83 6.52 0.31 0.86
E4 .............. 5.85 5.21 0.64 1.54
E5 .............. 7.51 7.77 -0.26 -0.64
E6 .............. 7.55 7.25 0.30 0.72
E7 .............. 8.40 8.16 0.25 0.85
E8 ............. 8.30 6.82 1.48 4.27 l

E9 .............. 8.35 7.62 0.73 2.21 f

El0 ............. 6.72 4.06 2.66 6.83 l

El1 ............. 7.43 7.16 0.27 0.76

El2 ............. 8.64 8.64 -0.002 -0.01
El3 ............. 7.42 6.88 0.54 1.62
El4 ............. 7.34 6.55 0.79 2.35 l

(): significant at a =0.05

52 Journal of Safety Research


Kaser-Meyer-Olkin (KM01 measure of Bartletts test of sphericity

Sample analyzed sampling adequacy [PIXH

Full sample (N =207) 0.741 0.000

Nonviolators (N = 134) 0.679 0.000
Violators IN =73) 0.738 0.000

The standard method of principal-compo- ings on the road layout factor; pavement con-
nents analysis was followed. For the full sam- dition and hazard signing have fairly high
ple of 207 drivers (making no distinction loadings on that factor, and loadings of the
between violators and nonviolators) four fac- same order (approximately 0.5) on Factors 2
tors were identified, explaining 62% of the and 3 respectively. One can therefore assume
total variance (Table 4). Moderate or high fac- that road layout is the factor of prime impor-
tor loadings have been underlined in the table tance in determining drivers choice of speed.
to show which variables are associated with Since four factors emerged as significant
each factor. Factor 1 features road layout for the full sample, it was attempted to pro-
elements, in particular sight distance and cur- duce the same number of dimensions in sepa-
vature. Factor 2 can be labelled cross-section rate analyses for violators and nonviolators.
characteristics. Factor 3 is associated to The factors extracted for the two subgroups
signing. And Factor 4 to separation of op- are similar to those identified in the analysis
posing traffic. for the full sample: (a) road layout, (b) cross-
Presented in bold type are the loadings of section characteristics, (c) signing, and (d)
the four highest-rated elements (El-pavement separation of opposing traffic. In both sam-
condition, ET-sharp curvature, E9-additional ples, the four factors explained over 60% of
warning signing, and E12-sight distance on the total variance (60.5% for nonviolators,
curve). These were considered for a qualita- 64.8% for violators).
tive comparison of the factors importance; A comparison of factors for the two groups
the factors associated with most or all of these was attempted, again in a qualitative fashion,
elements (bold and underlined loa$ngs) may by considering each groups four highest-rated
be seen as being of prime importance in deter- variables. Since for nonviolators (Table 5)
mining choice of speed. It can be seen that variables E7, E8, E9 and El2 were the highest-
sight distance and curvature have high load- rated ones, it can be said that the signing factor


Factor 1 Factor 3 Factor 4

Elements (Road layout) (Signing) (Separation of opposing traffic)

El . A5 .M -.38 -.ll
E2 .._ .12 z5 -.05 .27
E3 .02 .Bz .ll .09
E4 ,..._. -.08 .z .22 .36
E5 .04 .36 -.08 .a4
E6 .,.._. .lO .12 .02 86
E7 .62 .05 .lS .Ol
ES .37 -.07 .24 .04
ES 49 -.14 -62 .18
El0 .._. .04 .21 .24 -.09
El1 &cl .Ol .14 .21
El2 .._._ .Bl -.03 -.Ol .06
El3 _..._ M .30 .35 -.15
El4 .52 .21 .38 .08

Bold type: highest-rated variable

l!nd&&& variables characterizing each factor

Spring 1995Nolume 26Bhmber I 53


Factor 1 Factor 2 Factor 3 Factor 4

Elements (Road layout) (Cross-section characteristics) (Signmg) (Separation of opposing traffic)

El .09 &I .19 .03

E2 . . . -.05 .al -.Ol .25
E3 .07 .Iu -.lO .12
E4 .21 A8 -.30 AZ
E5 -.02 .24 -.07 a6
E6 -.03 03 .06 .a5
E7 .03 .23 xi .02
E8 ,..... .I7 -.02 .25 -.13
E9 . . .30 -.lO _Bl .06
El0 .12 .34 .29 -.16
El1 _55 -.06 .32 .30
El2 A5 -.Ol A6 .ll
El3 . &I .15 .Ol -.12
El4 .._.. 81 .15 .18 -.09

Bold type: highest-rated variable

U.&&n& variables characterizing each factor

(on which El, E8 and E9 have high loadings l Nonviolators seem to be primarily affected
and El2 a fairly high loading) is the most by signing in setting their speed on curves,
important one. On the other hand, violators while for violators road layout appears rela-
(Table 6) were primarily influenced by El, E5, tively more significant.
ET, and E12; for this group, the road-layout l Violators rate signing (whether warning
factor seems to be relatively more important signs or posted speed-limits) and gradient
than others, as it features high loadings for El significantly lower than do nonviolators.
and E12, and a fairly high coefficient for E7.
From the above analysis, differences
between violators and nonviolators can be
summed up as follows: DISCUSSION

l Violators are less restricted by road-environ- Factor analysis of the survey data indi-
ment elements on curves in determining cates that there are four general factors of
their speed. the road environment that influence drivers


Factor 1 Factor 2 Factor 3 Factor 4

Elements (Road layout) (Cross-section characteristics) (Signing1 (Separation of opposing traffic)

El .,._.. _I3 .04 .ll .09

E2 _. .31 .38 .04 Ji2
E3 .18 M -.02 .28
E4 -.03 -23 .14 .27
E5 .12 .23 .02 911
E6 -.08 .09 .21 _a8
E7 Al .17 _Bl -.lO
E8 .06 -.02 26 .12
E9 ..t.. .14 -.05 81 .22
El0 -.28 .32 .E6 -.12
El1 .._.. .52 19 .36 .04
El2 _. .B4 .02 93 .09
El3 . .._ .19 53 M -.02
El4 .25 .20 Lie? .17

Bold type: highest-rated variable

Undarlinad: variables characterlang each factor

54 Journal of Safety Research

choice of speed on interurban road curves. ensuring consistency of alignment (Federal
These are: (a) separation of opposing traffic, Highway Administration, 1981; Lamm et al.,
(b) cross-section characteristics, (c) align- 1992), whether in designing new roads or
ment, and (d) signing. It is worth noticing improving existing ones.
that these dimensions, identified by analysis Signing is a factor of special interest, for a
of drivers expressed attitudes, correspond, number of reasons. First, it is usually strongly
in a qualitative way, to factors identified correlated to alignment (Lamm & Choueiri,
through observations of actual driver behav- 1987). For example, curve-warning signs are
ior. Indeed, most relationships used for pre- usually found on tight bends, and thus it can-
dicting operating speeds take account of the not be clear what part of the reduction is
first three factors, as they constitute relation- attributable to signing and what to sharp cur-
ships of speed versus curvature (Lamm & vature. Second, characteristics such as the
Choueiri, 1987) for various road types; the type, placement, and condition of a sign can
term road type generally involves factors vary considerably, making it difficult to pre-
(a) and (b) (Gambard & Louah, 1986), and cisely assess the effect of signing as a single
curvature is a dominant element of the factor. And finally, the present survey shows
alignment factor. Besides, there is a con- that drivers obeying speed limits and those
siderable amount of empirical evidence (e.g., violating them are affected by signing in dif-
Rutley, 1972; TRB, 1984,) to support the ferent ways regarding speed choice on curves.
view that signing does have an effect on The role of signing becomes most important
vehicle speeds. in cases where the risk viewed subjectively is
The correspondence between the speed- less than that viewed objectively (Wright &
choice factors identified in this survey and Boyle, 1987; Dieleman, 1990; Kanellaidis &
those emerging in operational studies sug- Dimitropoulos, 1994).
gests that attitude surveys can be used as a If increased acceptance of signing among
reliable tool in relevant research. They can violators is to be sought, improvements in
provide insight into the reasons behind the the reliability of signing could be supple-
choice of speed, whereas conventional speed mented by campaigns emphasizing its im-
measurements usually produce mere correla- portance for road users safety. It was
tions, not causal relationships (Myers, 1983). shown (Kanellaidis et al., 1995) that young,
For example, the lack of agreement on the male, University-educated drivers frequently
impact of speed limits (TRB, 1984; Yagar & using interurban roads should be the target
van Aerde, 1983; Noguchi, 1990), as well as group of relevant safety campaigns. Due to
the otherwise unexplained conflicting findings the evidence of a self-serving bias in
regarding the effect of gradient on speeds drivers (McKenna, Stanier, & Lewis, 1991,
(Yagar & van Aerde, 1983; Gambard & Kanellaidis et al., 1995), it is important to
Louah, 1986; Reinfurt et al., 1992), may be convince individuals that the campaign mes-
due to differences in attitudes and behavior sage refers to themselves and not to other
between those who obey speed limits and drivers only.
those who do not. Use of attitude surveys can offer flexibili-
Drivers ratings and factor analysis results ty in exploring possible driver reactions to
showed that road layout variables (sight dis- planned schemes at a local level, by helping
tance in particular) were the most significant identify which options would be potential-
determinants of speed choice on curves. If ly successful. In addition, at a strategic
lower speeds are aimed for, modifying the level, it is often desirable to achieve opti-
alignment may be more effective than provi- mum operating speeds, which may well be
sion of signing in reducing speed. Safe low- different from drivers desired speeds (Hale,
speed alignments (e.g., flowing alignments 1990). To bridge that gap, knowledge of
with sight distances only slightly above mini- factors affecting choice of speed, and also
mum values) should be sought in those cases. of attitudes and behavior regarding advi-
It must be emphasized that situations requir- sory and mandatory speed signs, will be of
ing abrupt speed reductions can be avoided by great importance.

Spring I99SNolume 26/Number I 55

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT Lamm, R., Guenther, A. K., & Choueiri, E. M. (1992).
Safety module for highway design. Paper presented at the
TRB Annual Meeting, Washington, DC.
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McKenna, F. P., Stanier, R. A., & Lewis, C. (1991). Factors
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56 Journal of Safety Research