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




No prompt was necessary to get the first group to talk about what they do not like about the Beltway. The first complaint was congestion. One participant said she had a love/hate relationship with the Beltway. She said, "It is like the girl who had a little curl on her forehead. When she is good she is very, very good, and when she is bad, she is horrid." Sometimes people can shoot right down the Beltway and get to a destination very quickly. Other times, they just sit for hours. Congestion and delays were also the first complaint in Group 2 and Group 3. Although congestion did not come up as early in the aggressive driver groups, it did come up as one of the major things they disliked.

One of the Group 4 aggressive drivers said that it is congestion that leads to all of the other things he does not like about the Beltway: unsafe lane changes, tailgating and general hostility. (Interestingly, aggressive driving behaviors did not come up this early in the three general driver groups.) An aggressive driver in Group 5 said she never likes the Beltway because it is always jammed with traffic. Another added that it is often backed up for no apparent reason. One of the men responded that it might be the result of the rubbernecking that happens every time a law enforcement officer pulls someone over. Another Group 5 woman complained that she does not know any good ways to get off when it gets jammed.

One woman from Group 1 complained that some spots on the Beltway are poorly designed. The spot that scares her most is trying to get from where the Clara Barton Parkway enters the Beltway to the exit to I-270. She says four lanes of traffic need to be crossed in a very short distance, and every time she crosses it she thinks she is taking her life in her hands. This brought up other spots participants felt were hazardous. One mentioned merging onto the Beltway from I-270. Another mentioned the Springfield interchange where traffic from the Beltway merges with traffic from I-95, I-395 and other major highways and there is an incredible amount of necessary lane changing to get in position to take a desired route. A woman in Group 2 said she thinks the Beltway is dangerous, especially the curvy sections. A woman who grew up in New Jersey agreed, saying that she thinks it is much more frightening than the Jersey Turnpike and most of the roads in the New York metropolitan area.

Group 1 also complained about exits with no merge lanes or short merge lanes onto surface streets. The example given was Democracy Boulevard. One participant said that if drivers do not yield, they probably will get hit by traffic from the surface street. If drivers stop, they will back up traffic on the ramp, causing a hazardous situation behind them. Group 4 (aggressive drivers) also complained about on-ramps, although the woman who volunteered the response was one of the three least aggressive drivers in the group. She said it frightened her a bit to merge into faster Beltway traffic. The woman next to her (who also was relatively low on the aggressiveness scale in this group) said she did not like merge lanes where cars were both exiting and entering the Beltway in the same lane, especially when the exits and entrances are close together.

Another complaint in the first group was HOV lanes. The general idea expressed by the group was that they are a big waste. It does not make sense to them that traffic should be at a standstill in the non-HOV lanes while there are hardly any cars in the lanes reserved for high occupancy vehicles. One participant also complained that on roadways with a single HOV lane, traffic runs faster in the regular lanes than in the HOV lane, which lessens their ability to convince people to car pool. The HOV issue also came up in Group 5. One of the aggressive drivers in the group said, "It is maddening when the highway is choked and the HOV lanes are empty." He asked, "How long will it take before the government realizes that it is not working, that the theory does not fit the practice?"

Several members of Group 2 added that they think the road is confusing. In particular, some of them wished the signs would have directions on them (North, South, East and West) because they are not familiar with the place names, even though they have lived in the area for up to six years. The use of "inner loop" and "outer loop" on some signs also is confusing to some. One group member had to explain it to several other group members. Confusing signs also came up in Group 3. One example given was the directional signs entering the Beltway from I-95 in Maryland. The signs say "New Hampshire Avenue--Silver Spring" in one direction and "College Park--I-95 South" in the other direction. If drivers do not know where these places are, the man said, the signs are meaningless. Another Group 3 member said she thinks that designating the highway as I-95, I-495 and I-395 in different places also is confusing. Two of the aggressive drivers in Group 5 had a conversation about how strange and confusing the Beltway seems in the other person's state. Signs were blamed for a lot of the confusion.

The most aggressive driver in Group 4 said that he hates all the construction, particularly when it is done during the business day. (He uses the Beltway all day long to call on clients.) Someone else built on this idea and said that even more annoying are signs that warn of construction ahead when none is going on. Several others gave examples of cases where lanes were coned off and there was no construction.

A member of Group 3 brought up inattentive drivers as one thing he does not like about the Beltway. He says he often sees people reading newspapers as they are driving.

Group 5 generated a longer list of things they do not like about the Beltway. One man mentioned that his pet peeve is when people abandon cars on the Beltway during snow storms. Another said he hates the bridge painting that goes on every night when he uses the Beltway. Another man mentioned that the sun often blinds Eastbound traffic early in the morning, especially between Georgia and Connecticut Ave. A male driver from California said that there are two things about the California highways that strike him as superior to the Beltway. One is exit signs that constantly show the next three exits and the distance to them. The other is "Botts Dots," the raised reflectors between lanes that are easier to see in the rain and can be felt when a lane is accidentally crossed.

Trucks were mentioned among the initial dislikes about the Beltway only in Group 3. The woman who mentioned trucks said that many of them slow down traffic and they do not stay in the right hand lane when going slow. One of the men added that trucks stay out of the left lane, but unless drivers are comfortable going over 70 in the left lane, they are pretty much stuck behind the trucks. Another man added that sometimes truckers are aggressive and related a frightening experience when he passed a truck. The trucker got angry and tried to run him off the road. Poor brakes were also mentioned.

Generally, what commercial drivers like least about the Beltway is losing time in traffic jams. This is especially so for drivers who are paid by weight or load, rather than being paid hourly. The dump truck drivers from Skippy's trucking said they try to avoid the Beltway during the peak hours because they do not want to get stuck in stopped traffic. One said he would drive an extra 20 miles per trip on surface roads to avoid the possibility of getting stuck up there because it could save him time.

Some of the commercial drivers complain that they do not like being prohibited from the left lane on the Beltway especially when there is slow traffic ahead of them, three abreast, and the left lane is running free.

Another dislike about the Beltway, especially for dump truck drivers, is that the road is very rough in sections. They say that truckers feel the bumps and potholes more than ordinary motorists. They wonder what the basis is for decisions on what section gets re-paved. They mentioned that Virginia is re-paving a section near I-66 that was paved recently and did not need it, while other sections like Telegraph to Van Dorn are really rough.