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

More Enforcement Wanted by Drivers

A high proportion of participants wanted more law enforcement presence on the Beltway. None wanted less. Most participants acknowledged that law enforcement stops directly or indirectly cause some crashes, but they think that they prevent more crashes than they cause.

Most participants want law enforcement to give higher priority to unsafe driving, including excessive lane changes, cutting other drivers off, tailgating, and other violations they associate with aggressive driving.

Most drivers were not familiar with fines and points assessed for different violations. However, they generally think that sanctions should be tougher on habitual violators. Some also have the impression that the judicial system is too lenient with repeat offenders, granting hardship permits too readily when licenses are suspended.

Few drivers in any of the groups claimed to obey the posted speed limits. Most said they drive the Beltway at between 60 and 70 miles per hour when conditions permit. They do not think that these speeds are unsafe and count on law enforcement allowing 10 to 15 miles per hour tolerance. Almost all would agree that anything over 75 is unsafe. Some participants would like the road to be posted at 65 or 70 and be strictly enforced. Others disagreed, maintaining that no matter what speed is posted, people will drive 10 to 15 miles per hour faster. Even the most aggressive drivers in the sessions think that speed enforcement is important, but the people who should be cited are those who drive at unreasonably high speeds.

Most participants agreed that slow vehicles can be a safety problem on the Beltway, but few would recommend increased enforcement of minimum speed laws. Both truck drivers and other motorists are more concerned when the slow vehicles block the passing lanes. Many would like laws, education, and enforcement that would keep slow vehicles in the right hand lanes.

The majority of participants (about 80 percent) claimed they always wear their seat belts. Almost all were in favor of primary laws for child restraints. However, many object to laws making failure to wear a seat belt a stopping violation. Some said that failure to wear seat belts is one of the minor violations, like expired stickers or minor equipment deficiencies, that does not justify the hazard caused by pulling a vehicle over on the Beltway. Others said that failure to wear a seat belt does not cause crashes and should be a matter of individual choice.

Awareness of the current enforcement campaign (Smooth Operator, April 1997) against aggressive driving ranged between 30 percent and 70 percent, depending on the composition of drivers in each group. The aggressive driver groups were more aware of the campaign than general drivers. Relatively few participants had unaided recall of the name Smooth Operator. However, most participants, even aggressive drivers, approved of it.

Several focus groups spontaneously suggested an activity similar to the proposed aggressive driver video imaging project. However, there are some people who think it is too intrusive and that citations issued to registered owners without identifying the driver will and should be dismissed in the courts.

Beltway drivers' suggestions to deal with the problem of excessive speed included:

  • More law enforcement presence
  • Photo radar
  • Speed warning devices (saying "Your speed is XX mph--Slow Down")
  • Higher speed limits, but with zero tolerance for violators of these higher limits
  • Variable limits (responding to road conditions)
  • Different limits for each lane
  • Dummy law enforcement cars and drone radar