U. S. Department of Transportation
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

NHTSA People Saving People
DOT HS 808 705

April 1998





Detailed Findings

General Discussion

Specific Issues




List of Tables
1 Composition of Beltway Driver Groups
2 How Participants Use the Beltway
3 Perceived Causes of Beltway Crashes
4 Perceived Causes of Beltway Crashes - Commercial Drivers
5 Responses to Aggressiveness Screening Questions

List of Figures
1 Questionnaire Responses - General vs. Aggressive Drivers


Beltway Truck Driver Discussion Guide

Introduction: [2 Minutes]

1. Identify PRG, NHTSA and Capital Beltway Safety Team.

2. State purpose of the session:

The subject of our discussion will be the Capital Beltway. In particular, we want to know what you perceive to be the major problems with using the Beltway--especially the problems which relate to your safety, to get your suggestions as to how some of these problems might be solved, and to discuss your reaction to some issues which have been defined by the Capital Beltway Safety team.

3. Make respondents aware of recordings.

4. Assure participants of confidentiality.

5. State Ground Rules:

Feel free to state your point of view.

Speak up.

One at a time.

Role of moderator.

Self Introductions: [10 minutes]

Ask each participant to state name, place of residence, and destinations on a typical working day. Ask them how they use the Beltway on a typical working day, what times they are on the Beltway and what sections they travel. (A large outline map of the Beltway might be used so subjects could mark the area they use on the map).

Perceived Problems: [30 minutes]

1. What are your reasons for driving on the Beltway? Why use it instead of other roads? What do you like about it? What else?

2. What do you dislike about it? What else? (Probe thoroughly.)

3. How safe do you feel while driving on the Beltway? How does it compare to other interstates you drive? Does it seem to be getting safer, or less safe than it was, say five years ago?

4. How many of you have been in crashes on the Beltway in either a truck or your personal vehicle? How many have had near misses? (Probe: What happened? Was a police report filed? Any injuries and damages? What caused it?)

5. In general, what do you think are the major causes of Beltway crashes? Why do you think so? Any others? (List on Flip Chart. Probe thoroughly.) How about Beltway crashes which specifically involve trucks? Lets make a list of the causes of truck crashes.

6. What locations on the Beltway do you consider to be particularly hazardous or susceptible to accidents? Why? (Add new items to list.)

7. What kinds of roadway design, marking, signage and roadway maintenance situations do you feel make the Beltway less safe than it could be? (Add new items to list.)

8. What times of day do you think crashes are more likely to occur? Why? Do you feel that the causes of crashes different at different times of day? In what way? (Add new items to list.)

9. What driving behaviors do you feel are major causes of crashes on the Beltway? Which ones do you think are a bigger problem on the Beltway than other roads? Why? (Add new items to list.)

10. Do you think that certain types of drivers or types of vehicles pose greater safety risks on the Beltway than others? Which ones? Why?

11. (If not mentioned in 9 or 10) How important a safety hazard do you feel that so called "Aggressive Driving" is? What driving behaviors do you associate with aggressive driving? (Probe Speeding, Tailgating, Frequent/Abrupt lane changing, and erratic maneuvers if not mentioned.) Which of these behaviors do you feel are most threatening?

12. Are you aware of any differences between the Maryland and Virginia portions of the Beltway that you believe may cause confusion or create hazards? What? Why?

13. Before we move on, what other safety problems can you think of on the Beltway?

14. We are going to spend some time talking about what can be done to solve some of the highway safety problems you have identified. I'd like each of you to pick out two or three items from the list that you think are most important. (Work around table. Tally next to items identified.)

Suggested Solutions: [20 minutes]

Now, I'd like to get your ideas about what could be done to help solve the problems you have identified as being important. For the time being, I don't want you to worry about whether or not your ideas are practical. We are looking for creativity here, and I want everyone to feel that is safe to venture ideas that at first may seem "off the wall" If somebody ventures an idea that you disagree with or think is impractical, I don't want to hear you unless you have a way to build on the idea or improve it.

(Start with the problem most participants identified as being important and work through the list. Stay with an item only as long as ideas are flowing. Address as many items as time allows.)

Safety Team Issues: [30 minutes]

At the beginning of the session, I mentioned the Capital Beltway Safety Team. The Team is an outgrowth of the "Washington Area Safety Initiative", formulated by 120 representatives of federal state and local agencies concerned with highway safety, as well as representatives of private industry (including trucking associations), public interest groups and ordinary citizens. The Team's mission is to develop an integrated, regionally coordinated approach to improving safety on the Capital Beltway and they are charged with developing strategies to implement the "Safety Initiative's" 53 recommendations. Members of the Safety Team have asked us to get some specific feedback from Beltway users to help them accomplish their mission.

(Ask about as many areas as time permits, starting with the section on truck related issues. Rotate order of other topics to ensure that all are covered in an equal number of groups.)

Truck-related Issues:

1. How many of you have heard about a public information campaign called "NoZone?" What is your perception of the objectives of the program? How effective do you feel it has been?

2. How many of you have heard of an educational campaign called "Share the Road?" What do you think that means? How effective has it been?

3. What truck restrictions are you aware of that apply specifically to the Beltway?

4. Do you think it is reasonable and fair to place special restrictions on trucks driving the Beltway? Why/Why not? Of the existing truck restrictions, which ones do you object to? Why? Anybody disagree? (Probe: left lane prohibition, speed limits, cargo restrictions if not mentioned.)

5. When we talk with the general public about reducing congestion, somebody usually suggests banning trucks from the Beltway, especially during rush hours. What would your reaction be to banning trucks during rush hours? Why?

6. Another thing that comes up in focus groups with non-truck drivers is that vehicles such as garbage trucks, dump trucks, and school buses cause special safety problems on the Beltway because they have problems merging into and keeping up with the flow of traffic. Do you feel this is justified? Do you think of a ban on three axle vehicles on the Beltway would be a reasonable approach to solve the problem? Can you think of any alternative approaches?

7. Several of the Capital Beltway Safety Team's recommendations relate to increased commercial vehicle safety inspections. From your perspective, how often do you feel it is reasonable? How can increased inspection best be accomplished? (Probe increased use of portable weigh/inspection stations, more pull-off areas on Beltway, increased inspections on feeder highways, in terminal/on-premises inspections, insurance discounts for 25/50K preventive maintenance inspections, targeting risky carriers.)

8. What is your understanding of proposed changes in Federal Undercarriage Regulations? (devices that prevent cars from driving under tailgates) (Ask tractor trailer drivers) How often do you pull trailers that don't meet the new regulations? What would be your opinion about immediately banning all trailers that don't meet the new standard, rather than "grand fathering" existing trailers?

9. Within the past several years, roll-over warning devices have been placed on some of the ramps leading to and from the Beltway. Do you feel they are effective? Are there any locations that you feel should have these devices but still don't have them? What locations?

Enforcement Issues:

1. In general, how do you feel about law enforcement presence on the Beltway, How many of you feel that there is too little? How many feel that there is too much? How many feel it is about right?

2. Do you think a safety problem is created when a law enforcement vehicle is stopped along the Beltway? Do you feel that the safety benefits of law enforcement traffic stops on the Beltway justify any increased hazard they create? Does it seem to be better or worse if the law enforcement vehicles flashing lights are on?

3. How many of you would support increased funding for Beltway law enforcement? What would be the best way to pay for it? Which do you feel would be fairest, tolls, gas taxes, increased auto registration fees or increased fines?

4. What kinds of violations would you like law enforcement officers to make higher priorities, that is, what kinds of arrests would have the greatest impact on making the Beltway safer? Why? (Ask other participants.) What do you think?

5. What do you think the fines and points for traffic violations currently are? To what extent do you think they affect driver behavior on the road? Why? (Ask other participants.) Should penalties be higher on the Beltway than on other roads? (Count noses.) Why?

6. How many of you feel that the posted speed limit on the Beltway is too high? How many feel it is too low? How many feel it is about right?

7. How strictly do you feel that the posted speeds are being enforced? How much tolerance should officers allow before pulling speeders over?

8. How many of you feel that Maryland should enact a radar detector ban, similar to the bans in Virginia and DC? Why? Why not? If a radar detector ban is not passed in Maryland, how many of you would be in favor of using "drone radar" which generates false alarms on radar detectors? What do you think of federal regulations which prohibit detectors in trucks?

9. How would you feel about using video cameras (an automated system which takes pictures of cars that are speeding, tailgating and making abrupt lane changes on the Beltway) to issue tickets to the registered owners of the vehicles? Any other views? How many are for and against?

10. Do you feel that slow moving vehicles are as much of a hazard on the Beltway as those driving too fast? How many of you feel that Maryland should have a law similar to Virginia's which requires that slow vehicles, moving 10 MPH below the speed limit, must keep in the right hand lane?

11. What does the term "primary seat belt law" mean to you? Among Maryland, Virginia and the Capital District, what is your understanding of where not wearing a seat belt is a stopping violation? How many feel it should be a stopping violation everywhere?

12. Have you noticed any recent changes in the level of law enforcement activity on the Beltway? How long ago? Do you know the names of any such programs?

13. How many of you have heard about a law enforcement activity called "Smooth Operator". What do you think are the purposes of the program? What do you think the short term and long term effects of the program will be?

Incident and Traffic Management:

1. How many of you think it is illegal to move vehicles involved in accidents from the travel lane before law enforcement arrive? How many are aware that the law requires you to move them if practicable? Do you think is a good policy? Why?

2. Have you ever encountered a situation where there were pedestrians on the Beltway? Was it a safety problem? Where and When?

3. What is your reaction to making disabled or abandoned vehicles on shoulders subject to immediate towing? Why? How many of you favor changing laws and procedures to authorize this?

4. How many are aware of motorist assistance patrols on the Beltway? Has anyone in the group had a personal experience with them? (If yes) How long did it take them to respond? What would you do if help did not arrive in 15 minutes? What if it was a half hour or an hour?

5. How many of you have a car phone? Does anyone know what number to dial to report an non-emergency accident? (*77 in Virginia, #77 in Maryland)

6. Highway planners are working on longer term high tech solutions to managing traffic on the Beltway, involving traffic sensors, TV cameras, computers, data links, control centers, etc. The objective would be to manage the flow of traffic by doing such things as changing speed limits and use of lanes on the Beltway and major access and egress roads, as well as possibly controlling traffic signals. How much will this help? What problems, if any, do you think these kinds of systems might create for motorists? Parts of the system are already functioning. What changes have you noticed? Do you think it is helping?

Work Zone Safety:

1. (If not previously discussed) How important is construction and maintenance work on the Beltway as a cause of crashes? Why? What could be done to make construction and maintenance less of a problem?

2. How annoying are construction delays? How many minutes of construction delay does it take to change you attitude from mere annoyance to anger? Is your threshold of tolerance different at different times of the day?

3. What are your feelings about the present adequacy of warning signs, barriers, pavement marking, flagging, etc. at work zones? Do you usually know about major construction well in advance of coming to it? How do you find out about it? What improvements would you suggest?

4. What do you think of a proposal to require law enforcement presence at all major Beltway construction sites?

5. At present, how realistic are the speed advisories at work zones? How many of you slow down some? How many of you slow down to the posted speeds? Would your behavior be different if law enforcement were present? If posted speeds were higher, would you slow down less? How many know that speeding fines are higher in a work zone? Now that you know, will you still speed?

Operation and Design Enhancements:

1. Do you feel the Beltway is kept in good repair? What particular problems, if any have you noticed?

2. What differences do you notice in highway features (including signs and markings as well as the roadway and ramps) when you pass from Maryland to Virginia or vice versa? (For each item mentioned), Which do you feel is better and why?

3. Do you ever encounter problems seeing lane markings and other pavement markings on the Capital Beltway? Under what conditions? Do you feel this is more or less of a problem than it was a few years ago?

4. It has been suggested that congestion leads to accidents, and one way to help relieve congestion might be to narrow the existing lanes to create one more lane? What do you think of this idea? What would you think about converting the right shoulder, or breakdown lane into a travel lane?

5. How do you feel about high occupancy vehicle lanes? How many people should be required in a vehicle to be lawful in an HOV lane? Would you support construction of an HOV lane on the Beltway?

6. It has been suggested that a lot of Beltway congestion could be relieved by enhancing traffic management on arterial streets connecting with the Beltway, creating what highway planners call "Super Arterials". This might involve limiting access to surface streets and changing signals on them to give priority to rush hour traffic entering or exiting the Beltway. What locations do you know of where this would be a major benefit? What kinds of disruption in local traffic would you envision?

7. Another suggestion to reduce congestion is tolls on rush hour traffic. What effects do you think this would have? How high a toll would it take to reduce or change the timing of your Beltway use? What do you think toll collection would do to the flow of traffic? How many of you are for and against this?

8. How many of you car pool, at least occasionally, to commute to and from work? How often do you do it? What are the advantages? What are your reasons for not car pooling?

9. How many of you use mass transit, at least occasionally to get to and from work? How often? What are the advantages? What are reasons for not using mass transit? What kind of service would need to be available to get you to switch from driving to using mass transit?

10. It has also been suggested that additional highways are the only or best way to substantially reduce Beltway congestion. How many of you favor building new major highways for that purpose? In what particular corridors or locations do you believe they would be most beneficial?

Education and Public Information:

1. How do you go about getting traffic information about the Beltway, that is, what are your sources of information? What sources are most helpful? What kinds of information would you like?

2. How satisfied are you with information from electronic signs on the roadway? Should there be more of them? Where? Do any of the signs themselves cause safety problems? (get explanations.) Which type is better, overhead signs or ground mounted signs? Why?

3. How many of you have ever called the VDOT or AAA traffic information numbers? How often? How helpful is the information?

4. In your travels, how many of you have been exposed to TARS (Traffic Advisory Radio System), where you can tune in a special station dedicated to highway condition messages on your car radio? How often do you tune in to those on the Beltway? How helpful is the information?

5. If you find out about traffic problems in advance, do you try to take alternative routes? Would it be helpful if alternatives were suggested to you? Should electronic signs be used for this purpose?

6. Other than in this room, what highway safety messages or slogans can you remember being exposed to in the past year or so? (Unaided Recall.)

7. How many of you remember hearing or seeing the following safety campaign slogans or themes: (Aided Recall.) "Drive to Survive"? "Buckle Up, it's the Law"? "Sharing the Road with Trucks"? Other messages remembered by participants?

8. What kinds of media do you feel would be most effective in reaching you with these kinds of messages? Do you feel it is appropriate to use variable message boards on the Beltway for these kinds of messages when not being used for urgent warnings?

9. How many of you feel that the Driver's License Tests in your state assure that drivers have the knowledge and capabilities needed to drive safely on the Beltway? What changes would you suggest? How many feel that drivers should be re-tested? Under what circumstances? To what extent do you feel that Beltway drivers are self-selecting, that is, drivers who are not capable of handling the Beltway tend to stay off it?

10. What, in your view, should driver training programs teach students about driving on the Beltway? How do you feel it should be taught? What should new drivers be taught about trucks? Do you think that knowledge about trucks should be included in licensing tests?

11. How many of you have a CDL? How many of you have studied for one? What is your opinion of the requirements? What requirements, if any, do you feel are unfair or unnecessary? What, if anything, should be added?