U. S. Department of Transportation
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
HS 808 705
List of Tables
List of Figures
Public Information and Education Issues
Specific issues listed under this topic were probed systematically only among Group 3 motorists and in one group of commercial drivers. References are made to some of these issues in other groups where they came up in general discussion.
Getting Traffic Information
Group 3 participants were asked how they obtained information on traffic conditions on the Beltway. Several responded that they listen to traffic reports on the radio and also on TV news. One said he occasionally uses his cell phone to get traffic information.
Variable Overhead Signs
When prompted, most of the members of Group 3 said they look at the variable overhead signs on the Beltway for information on hazards and road congestion ahead. Most participants indicated that the signs are helpful but there are not enough of them. The group did not think that the signs cause a safety problem.
However, one participant remarked that the signs are hard to read at Beltway speeds because there is not enough time to read a sufficient amount of information to be really helpful. One said he did not know of any such signs. (Evidently there are none on the Beltway section he travels.) A participant in another group thinks they are dangerous because they are distracting. One of the women in the group said the information is sometimes in error. She said the sign she passed on the way to the group indicated that two lanes ahead were closed, but by the time she got there, they were open. In a couple of other groups, people remarked that they do not even look at the signs anymore because they always tell about the same congestion day after day.
Traffic Information by Phone
Two of the Group 3 members occasionally used their cellular phones to get traffic information (seven group members had cell phones). Both said that the source they called was AAA. They do not totally trust the information they get, remarking that all sources are somewhat unreliable because traffic conditions change so quickly.
Traffic Advisory Radio
A few of the Group 3 participants acknowledged that they have tried tuning to Traffic Advisory Radio when directed to do so by signs on or around the Beltway. None had satisfactory experiences with it. One said he could not find it. Another said it was too weak to be easily heard. A third said that the problem is that the broadcasts are on AM radio and he suggested that FM would be better. The person who remarked that the broadcast was hard to hear said he does not bother to tune in anymore because it only takes one or two unsatisfactory experiences to realize that it is a waste of time.
Use of Alternate Routes
Most of the Group 3 participants said they take alternative routes when they know about congestion in advance. However, one member remarked that there are no reasonable alternatives to cross the Potomac. They acknowledged that it would be helpful if information on alternative routings were given on the variable overhead signs and Traffic Advisory Radio, subject to the limitations in these media. The discussion shifted, momentarily, to in-car navigation systems which one of the group had mentioned as a hopeful solution to the problem of finding alternative routes. Another group member said he worried about that as just one more distraction to drivers.
Familiarity with Highway Safety Messages
When asked what highway safety messages they had seen or heard in the past few years, the group responded that they were aware of campaigns against drunk driving and messages promoting seat belt use. (Asked how many wear seat belts every time they drive, only three members of Group 3 did not raise their hands.) Another participant added that she had seen some messages promoting use of child restraints. When prompted, most members of Group 3 remembered having seen or heard the theme "Drive to Survive." Every member of the group claimed to remember "Buckle Up, It's the Law." None had heard the theme "Sharing the Road with Trucks." None were familiar with the term "NoZone."
Use of Variable Overhead Signs for Safety Messages
All of the members of Group 3 supported using the overhead message signs to communicate safety reminders but one man remarked that he did not think it would do much good.
Perceived Adequacy of Licensing Tests
Members of Group 3 did not believe that new drivers are adequately prepared to drive on the Beltway. One member remarked that one of the problems in the DC area is the problem of language. If multilingual driver tests are given, how can we be sure that drivers can read the road signs? Someone else said she thought that drivers who move in from other states and other countries should be re-tested before getting a DC, Virginia or Maryland license. The group was in general agreement that all drivers should be given a road test in order to renew their licenses.
Some of the commercial drivers also thought that licensing requirements are insufficient. Roadway Express drivers' suggestions are shown in detail in the section on solutions. The Skippy's Trucking drivers disagreed with the policy of giving drivers license exams in foreign languages because they felt that the drivers would not be able to read road signs. North American drivers complained that drivers of large recreational vehicles were a safety hazard because they are not required to have a CDL, even though the vehicles are the size of a large truck.
Perceptions About Driver Training
When probed, Group 3 initially thought it would be a good idea to include experience driving on the Beltway as part of driver education programs. On consideration, however, a few members of the group expressed the reservation that having a lot of trainees out on the Beltway might add to the problem. The general consensus in the group, though, was that requirements for experience behind the wheel are insufficient. One woman added that the instructor her son had was incompetent.
Truck drivers also had a few thoughts about driver training. One Roadway driver advocated that all driver training should include the "Smith System" (see section on solutions). Commercial drivers from several companies suggested that motorists should be required to have additional training to renew their licenses.