Skip to main content
European Commission logo

Should we educate the user to the tunnel or adapt the tunnel to the user*? (*L. Lathauwer, 2005)How to integrate human behaviour in tunnel safety concepts. (FGU2008/002)

Switzerland Flag
Complete with results
Geo-spatial type
Project website
STRIA Roadmaps
Infrastructure (INF)
Transport mode
Road icon
Transport policies
Societal/Economic issues
Transport sectors
Passenger transport,
Freight transport


Background & Policy context

The significance of road tunnels as part of the infrastructure of densely populated areas is on the increase. Consequently, the significance of tunnel safety is also increasing. Next to the technical outfitting of a tunnel, human behaviour, also plays a central role in the safety of tunnels. Based on existing research, this research project hypothesizes that today's norms and standards do not take the human factor adequately into account. This hypothesis will be tested.


The objectives of this research project are:

  • To create a systematic overview of existing data in the area of "Tunnel Safety and the Human Factor" and identify potential research gaps.
  • To compile an overview of the factors that impact human behaviour (road users, tunnel operators, rescue staff) in tunnels. Visualize these factors in a schematic diagram.
  • To examine relevant technical norms and standards: do they take the "human factor" into account?
  • To give practical recommendations how to improve tunnel safety by influencing human behaviour (tunnel design, processes, communication, training).

The study will be carried out in three stages.

Phase 1: The "human factor"

The first stage focuses on human behaviour in the tunnel - it is under normal traffic, be it in the event of an incident. Various disciplines contribute to this topic: traffic psychology, panic research, behavioural psychology - especially studies on the topic "fire performance", ergonomic and perceptive psychology. A comprehensive literature review gives an overview of the state of research in this area. This is supplemented by the analysis of event reports and case studies of tunnelling events. Completed the first phase with qualitative interviews (with semi structured guide) with experts in the field and rescue operation. They include psychologists, who looked after event cases, the victims, as well as specialists from the fire department and the operators. In addition to interviews with specialists in the field of "Human Behaviour and Tunnel Safety" carried out (eg by TNO, Netherlands, PIARC, ACTEURS project, France). As a result of this first phase will be in addition to a pooled analysis of a list of key behaviours and anatomical requirements - eg Frequencies (also) of the (older) man best listening - developed which are essential for accident prevention and self-rescue. This list is then used as the basis for the coding guideline in phase. 2

Phase 2: The technical tunnel equipment

The second stage focuses on the technical standards and guidelines relating to the safety equipment in the tunnel and are used in Switzerland. Relevant However, only the specifications that are of the behaviour in the tunnel and the self-rescue is important. As part of a structured content analysis is examined whether and to what extent the guidelines take into account the human dimension. For this analysis, a content coding guideline will be developed, tested and then applied to the relevant standards.

Perhaps by the standards less aspects are anchored as are implemented in practice. Therefore, qualitative expert interviews are also in this phase are carried out with (international) specialists in the field of "technical tunnel safety" (eg Security Institute Zurich, STUVA Germany, SINTEF Norway). Completed Phase 2 is with inventories in selected Swiss tunnels with different equipment. Using a specially developed checklist is examined to what extent the actual tunnel facilities and operations take into account the "human factor".

Phase 3: Recommendations

If hypothe


Parent Programmes
Institution Type
Public institution
Institution Name
Swiss Government: State Secretariat for Education and Research
Type of funding
Public (national/regional/local)


Based on existing research, this research project hypothesized that today's norms and standards do not take the human factor adequately into account. In order to test this hypothesis the project first compiled a systematic overview of existing data in the area of "Tunnel Safety and the Human Factor" – with a comprehensive literature review. Relevant influencing factors have been visualized in a schematic diagram. Potential research gaps were identified.

In a second step, using structured content analysis the project examined whether the current set of technical standards takes today's knowledge of human behaviour into account and applies it adequately.

In a third step, the results of the literature study were mirrored against common practice with on-site inspections of representative Swiss tunnels, a Delphi-study and a workshop with Swiss experts representing police departments, fire brigades, tunnel operators and FEDRO. 

Research of the first phase demonstrated that the hypothesis can be predominantly confirmed. The results also show that human behaviour in tunnels could be improved in order to optimize tunnel safety rather through system adjustments (processes, tunnel design, etc.) than through measures that address all parties concerned directly (communication, training, etc.).

In phase 2 results of phase 1 were diffused, mirrored and reviewed with a broader range of practice experts. The notion of the principles of calmness and wait introduced by Swiss experts in phase 1 and their consequences on tunnel equipment were especially focused on. In addition, the respective situations in the neighbouring countries, Austria, Germany, France and Italy were analysed.

Recommended tunnel safety measures differ considerably in some parts between literature and practice experts (phase 1 and 2). Summed up, literature experts ask for extensive list of safety equipment while practice experts tend to a leaner equipment of tunnels based on today's status quo.

Results of both phases were evaluated against their potential impact on human behaviour and recommendations were elaborated. Requirements for regulation were identified primarily with the information of tunnel users, signalization of escape routes, functioning of escape doors and tunnel closure. More precisely in case of an emergency the tunnel should speak. Eventual pre-knowledge of tunnel users cannot be relied on. Instead, tunnel users should be guided by concrete calls for action. Content of these calls must


Lead Organisation
EU Contribution
Partner Organisations
EU Contribution


Contribute! Submit your project

Do you wish to submit a project or a programme? Head over to the Contribute page, login and follow the process!