U. S. Department of Transportation
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
HS 808 705
With a view toward determining how Beltway drivers' perceptions have changed since 1994, the basic structure of the 1994 focus groups was replicated in the current wave, with a few changes to enhance the sensitivity of the research to the topic of aggressive driving.
PRG conducted a series of eight focus group discussions with Beltway drivers. By design, three groups represented the general population of Beltway drivers, two groups represented "aggressive" drivers, and three groups represented drivers of commercial vehicles. Focus group research is an exploratory technique designed to provide an understanding of an issue and to raise potential questions for further research. Focus groups typically provide qualitative rather than quantitative results.
The three general population groups included a broadly representative sampling of Maryland and Virginia residents who drive on the Beltway. All participants were required to be licensed drivers who drive on the Capital Beltway at least one day a week. Quotas were established to ensure that each group would consist of drivers from both Maryland and Virginia, both genders, and all ages between 21 and 59 representative of drivers on the Beltway. Since Maryland's portion of the Beltway is approximately twice that of Virginia's, there were more Maryland participants. Qualifications and quotas for these groups were identical to those used in 1994.
The two aggressive driver groups were recruited among drivers who met the general qualifications and who scored high on eight screener questions designed to measure anger, impatience, competitiveness, and vindictiveness of the driver in frequently encountered driving situations. The questions were derived from a driver stress profile developed by Dr. John Larson, and contained in his recent book on aggressive driving, Steering Clear of Highway Madness. Since Dr. Larson's profile contained too many questions to be practicable for telephone screening of prospective participants, PRG selected two questions from each category. The general driver population participants were recruited first. The most aggressive third of the general population drivers had scores of six or more on the screening questions. Accordingly, six was established as the threshold for qualifying participants in the aggressive driver groups. Although the procedure was somewhat arbitrary, results of the group discussions confirm that the aggressive groups indeed are more likely to engage in risky driving practices.
The five sessions involving Beltway drivers were held in a permanent focus group interviewing facility in Chevy Chase, Maryland. Members of the Capital Beltway Safety team observed the sessions through a one-way mirror. The focus groups were recorded on both audio and video tape.
Two of the three groups of commercial drivers were from the same companies that participated in 1994. They were Roadway Express (held at the Alexandria terminal) and North American Van Lines (held at the Hyattsville terminal). In fact, several of the drivers in each of these two groups were the same drivers who participated in 1994. The third group, representing drivers of straight trucks, were employees of Skippy's Trucking of Manassas, Virginia. These were dump truck drivers, either hauling bulk materials to asphalt plants or asphalt paving material to road construction sites. They replaced drivers from Sea-Cap, a fresh seafood delivery company that participated in the 1994 groups. The 1997 commercial driver sessions had a total of 17 participants, six at Skippy's, five at Roadway Express and six at North American Van Lines. The commercial driver discussions were held in or near trucking company terminals, by arrangement with terminal managers. Audio recordings were made of the truck driver sessions.