University of Padova

Coordinating in the traffic

An analysis of the communication practices between road users from a mediated interaction perspective


Driving is managed not only by the formal norms of the Highway Code, but also through shared informal habits that sometimes accomplish, and sometimes overwrite, formal rules. The comprehension of these habits provides a more realistic and complete picture of the criteria followed by drivers to coordinate in traffic. This study aims to identify with a qualitative approach the circumstances and the modalities with which communicational devices are utilized by drivers to communicate with the other road users, with a particular attention to the use of the explicit communicational devices (e.g. horns, direction lights).


In order to observe people driving behaviour in real contexts, we asked six participants to be accompanied during their habitual driving activities, and to be video-recorded during their car journeys. Five hours of video-recordings were thereby collected through a GoPro Hero 4, fixed on the participants’ forehead with the dedicated support.
The camera captured the windshield, the rear-view mirror and the left-side mirror of the participants’ vehicle. Data were analysed following an approach inspired from conversational analysis, adapting it for studying activities that are almost completely non-verbal and tied to the materiality of the affordances available in the road space and in the vehicle.


Our results show how road users can utilise the in-car communicational devices as it is required by the Highway Code or in ways that are not considered by it. In the last case, some practices can be shared and recognisable by the other social actors, while the other ones seem to be only partially shared and can possibly make the communication ambiguous. This observation could open the way to a possible improvement of in-car communication devices, aiming to a better vehicle coordination on the road.

Project date: October 2017
Supervisor: Prof. Anna Spagnolli
Candidate: Mariavittoria Masotina

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