A dynamical systems perspective on driver behavior

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Dynamical systems (DS) theoretical and methodological approaches have furthered our understanding of human development and behavior across many different domains, but have not yet been applied to driver behavior. Using a DS lens, a new theory of driver behavior is proposed, the phase transition framework (PTF), and then applied to understanding how novice drivers develop. The PTF can facilitate new lines of research by providing an individual-level explanatory account that yields the widely observed and poorly understood aggregate declines in novice drivers’ crash rates in the early months of licensure. For the purpose of the PTF, learning to drive is defined as changes in the psychological system integral to the acquisition, refinement, automation, and maintenance of competencies necessary for safe driving. In the PTF, the greatest reductions in population-level collision rates observed in the early months of the post-licensure period are hypothesized to be due to qualitative cognitive reorganizations (e.g., adoption of strategies that reduce risk) that cause abrupt shifts in crash risk trajectories into lower risk strata followed by refinement of strategy use and deployment through real-world experience. Critically, the PTF differs from other theories of driver behavior in that it holds that drivers’ behavioral development is self-organizing and emergent.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)193-203
JournalTransportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour
Early online date22 Apr 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2019


  • dynamical systems
  • novice driver safety
  • driver behavior theory


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