Study rates road weather information Web sites' ease of use

January 20, 2004

University Park, Pa. -- Participants in a Penn State usability study of three Web-based, statewide, roadway weather information systems rated Maryland's -- at -- easiest to use for trip planning.

Pennsylvania's road weather Web site -- at -- was ranked next by the study participants. Ohio's -- at -- which has since undergone an overhaul, had the lowest ease of use rating.

Paul Jovanis, professor of civil and environmental engineering, says, "Sites were rated lower if they required several 'mouse clicks' to obtain information. Study participants said the capability to specify an origin and destination on an initial site map would greatly enhance site usage."

The study results were presented Tuesday, Jan. 13, at the Transportation Research Board (TRB) annual meeting in Washington, D.C. Aaron C. Fayish, who conducted the study as part of his work for the master's degree, presented the paper, "Usability Study of Statewide Web-Based Roadway Weather Information Systems." Jovanis was Fayish's adviser and is co-author of the paper.

The authors note that public awareness of Web-based, statewide, roadway weather information systems is not high. Among the 98 people in the Penn State study, only seven percent had ever used a state-based Web site previously for roadway weather. Nearly 60 percent of the participants relied on the TV weather channel. About 45 percent used other Web-based sources.

The Penn State researchers enlisted 98 men and women in the study. One-third of the participants were over age 55. Previous experience with the Internet was not required; however, only five percent of the participants did not use the Internet at least weekly.

The participants were asked to plan a hypothetical trip using one of the Web sites and then to provide ratings of the website's attributes. Site ratings revealed that it is important that travelers access information about conditions along their intended routs with minimal searching. Map scale and resolution were important graphical elements. The most relevant weather information elements identified by the study participants were precipitation type, road surface conditions, visibility and air temperature. These highly rated elements were consistent with other studies in other regions of the U.S.

Participants over age 55 tended to rate the three Web-based systems higher than the age 25-55 groups. Those who had high Internet usage (five-to-seven days per week) gave higher ratings overall compared to low Internet users.

The authors conclude, "While only 7 percent of the respondents surveyed indicated using a Web-based road weather information system previously, 63 percent said they would use one of the ones evaluated during the study before making a trip and, presumably, more people would use the systems if they were made easier to use."

The study was supported by Penn State's Pennsylvania Transportation Institute Mid-Atlantic Universities Transportation Center.

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Last Updated March 20, 2009