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




Each of the groups was asked to spend a few minutes to suggest solutions to some of the problems that most members of their group had ranked among the top three causes of Beltway crashes. The content of these discussions is described below.

Aggressive Driving (Group 1)

The very first suggestion to deal with the problem was to put cameras on the overpasses, like those used to show traffic on the TV news, and send tickets to drivers who were observed doing bad things. (This was entirely spontaneous. The idea of "Aggressive Driver Imaging" as proposed by Maryland officials had not been discussed previously.) The second suggestion was to encourage motorists to report aggressive drivers by making a free cellular phone call to law enforcement. The third was more law enforcement on the road so that aggressive drivers would believe there is at least a possibility that they could get arrested. The fourth suggestion was signs asking people to be courteous.

One participant advocated stronger sanctions against repeat offenders. He thinks that the root of the problem is the judicial system. He perceives that even when licenses are suspended, sympathetic judges will reinstate driving privileges if any kind of hardship is shown. This undermines the deterrent effect of law enforcement and hard core violators have no fear of any consequences from their actions. Not only would he like it to be harder to get a license reinstated, but he would like to see habitual violators go to jail.

The group's definition of aggressive driving included speeding, swerving, switching lanes without signaling, tailgating and headlight flashing. Other members of the group added taking revenge on other drivers, competitiveness between drivers and general rudeness. The most aggressive woman driver in the group remarked that the problem with the last few characteristics given by the group was that there is no law to punish stupid drivers, or being competitive, and there should not be. The second most aggressive driver in the group added that he felt that enforcement against aggressive driving should be objective, not subjective. He did not think people should be stopped for being angry or pushy, only for breaking traffic laws.

Aggressive Driving (Group 2)

Group 2 also designated aggressive driving as the most serious cause of Beltway crashes. Asked for suggestions to solve the problem, the first response was to keep better track of repeat offenders and to pull their licenses. Building on that, one woman said that stops should be made and tickets should be issued for every violation, not letting minor violations go by. She thinks the problem is attitudinal and that attitudes would be different if people had some fear that they could get arrested.

The Smooth Operator campaign was mentioned spontaneously by name as a good solution to the problem. Four of the ten members of this group said they were aware that the program is going on. One of the panelists who lives in Fairfax said that there is a "Zero Tolerance" campaign on the Fairfax County Parkway in which every violation, no matter how minor, will be cited by law enforcement. He said this is along the lines of what has been discussed in the group but he had some doubts as to whether it will work against aggressive drivers.

At this point in the discussion, the moderator asked if anyone in the group would characterize themselves as an aggressive driver. The question was countered by a question from the woman who had the highest aggressiveness score (9) in Group 2. She asked "What is an aggressive driver?" The group responded: people who change lanes without signaling, people who cut in and out of lanes trying to go faster than surrounding traffic, people who tailgate, and people who are obnoxious on the road.

The moderator asked the group how they individually deal with aggressive drivers. The most aggressive woman in the group said, "When someone tailgates me, I let them pass and then I tailgate them back." Several members of the group appeared to be a little shocked when she said it, and several said they might think about doing that but it is far too dangerous. One woman said she worries that if she retaliates, someone might shoot her or force her off the road.

Speed (Group 3)

Several members of the Group 3 said that the primary cause of the speeding problem is lack of enforcement. One said he thought the difficulty might be that the road falls in multiple jurisdictions, but whatever the cause, there is not enough law enforcement on the road. Another added that it is hazardous to stop people for speeding on the Beltway and that might be the reason there is so little enforcement. One woman said that she thinks it would help if there were just more law enforcement cars on the road, whether they stopped a lot of speeders or not. She said the mere presence of law enforcement slows people down. One of the participants suggested using photo radar and sending tickets to registered owners by mail. The expected objection to sending the ticket to the registered owner, rather than the driver, finally emerged in the discussion of this solution.

Speed (Group 4)

The aggressive drivers who comprised Group 4 also suggested more enforcement. One of the young males in the group (not the most aggressive) suggested something on the order of photo radar. The difference he envisioned was that the locations of the speed tracking devices would be all around the Beltway and be obvious to motorists. Ideally, they would let the driver know he has been "busted" immediately, rather than the offender just getting a ticket in the mail.

One of the Group 4 women said that she could not believe she was saying it but speeding fines should be higher. She thinks they are not high enough now to really deter speeding. Another woman said that she thinks the speed limit should be raised to 65 and strictly enforced. She also added that people who go less than 55 should be arrested too, because they are just as big a problem. The idea of raising the speed limit and strictly enforcing it was supported by several other members of the group.

One of the most aggressive drivers in the group said he thought that just more law enforcement cars on the road would help a lot. He asked the group how many had ever seen a law enforcement car on the Beltway? Another of the aggressive drivers responded that he had seen a lot more law enforcement just recently. He said maybe it was due to the current enforcement wave to arrest aggressive drivers. (This was the first mention of the campaign in this group and it was spontaneous.)

At this point, the older of the two men at the top of the aggressiveness scale said, "Is everyone crazy? I do not believe that anyone in this group wants more law enforcement on the road. What should be done is fix the design problems with the roadway and if they enforce anything it should be getting the slow drivers out of the fast lane." One of the women said, "Yeah, I feel that way too, but the problem before us was what to do about speeding and I was just trying to help".

One of the women added that the solution might be to make public transportation more attractive so people who are afraid of speeds on the Beltway do not need to drive it. Someone responded that mass transit is an unrealistic solution because people want to drive just because they like driving.

Speed (Skippy's Trucking)

The dump truck drivers also think the only answer to the speed problem is more enforcement. One of the drivers said, "Lets face it, no one drives 55. There are hardly ever any police on the Beltway so everyone drives as fast as they can or as fast as they care to." One of the drivers suggested varying the speed limit on the road depending on conditions. He suggests letting the road run at 65 or 70 when there is little traffic and dropping the speed to 45 or 35 in bad weather or when there is congestion. He said he has seen it done elsewhere and it really works as long as the speed limits are reasonable and strictly enforced. The group also suggested photo radar, dummy cameras and even dummy law enforcement cars on the side of the road. They said Maryland was already using photo radar. Someone said that Virginia tried it and ran into trouble in the courts. It seems someone who got a ticket was able to prove he was out of town.

Unsafe Lane Changes (Group 5)

There was a three way tie among the most serious crash causes in Group 5. They were speed, unsafe lane changes and weather, each named among the three most serious problems by five members of the group. The moderator elected to go with unsafe lane changes first but it became obvious that the group did not want to solve the problem. On two occasions, someone diverted the groups attention to other issues.

When Group 5 was forced to return to the subject of unsafe lane changing, the group in essence, said nothing can be done about it. One man said, "Unless other people change their style of driving, I'm not about to." One of the other men added that it might be a little late to retrain "us" but it would help to train new drivers in safe driving techniques. A young women responded that the training kids get is OK. She said she used to be a careful and considerate driver when she was in high school. It is only since she became confident in her abilities that she became more aggressive. One of the group members suggested that it might help if drivers were re-tested before being allowed to renew their licenses.

One member reluctantly said that the only answer is enforcement. Several other group members agreed. One said that none of them would change their driving behavior unless they felt there was a good chance they were going to get a ticket. However, one participant observed that aggressive drivers who use the road a lot know when law enforcement is on the road and where they will be. They think they can do anything they want without getting caught. It is the people who are unfamiliar with the road who get caught. At this point, one member proposed a solution that very much resembled the Maryland aggressive driver video imaging proposal. The group's reaction to the proposal is detailed in the law enforcement section of this report.

Unsafe Lane Changes (Skippy's Trucking)

The initial response to the lane switching problem was that additional laws are needed against aggressive driving. However, most of the group felt the problem could be addressed under existing laws against improper lane changing and all that needs to be done is to enforce them. One of the drivers knew about Smooth Operator and he thought it was a good thing. Another participant said there should be better enforcement of laws that require slow drivers to keep in the right lane and a lot more public education about them. He said that any driver with any sense should realize that if people are passing them on the right, they are going too slow in their lane and should move over to the right. He added that the same rule should apply to trucks. He noted that there are a lot of fellow truckers who block up the left lanes.

Inattentiveness (Group 3)

Group 3 spent a few minutes discussing driver inattentiveness, which tied with speed as the second ranked crash cause in this session. One member suggested that using cell phones while driving is one of the most common examples of inattention. Seven of the ten people in the group have cellular phones in their cars. One said he always pulls over before he uses his. Another said he has a "hands free" feature on his phone so he can talk with both hands on the wheel. Most of the rest admitted that they sometimes use their phones while driving. One remarked that talking on the phone is not very distracting in normal traffic but admits that she needs to take her eyes off the road to dial so she tries to dial while stopped in traffic or when there are no hazards she needs to pay attention to. No additional laws or enforcement actions were proposed by the group.

Congestion (Group 2)

The first suggestion the group made was to use HOV lanes for regular traffic. The person who put this forward said it is time for the government to admit that HOV lanes do not do what they were intended to do and these lanes would be better used to handle more traffic. Another person said that more lanes should be added. She pointed out an instance where an extra lane was recently added on a Beltway section. She said it makes a noticeable difference in the flow of traffic.

Another suggestion that came up spontaneously was to make public transportation an attractive alternative to driving. The woman who proposed it said that lack of parking at Metro stations is a significant deterrent to using the system. She also said it appears that authorities are trying to make the public transportation system less attractive by raising prices (extending the hours that are considered "on peak"). Other deterrents to using mass transit are that it does not go where people need to be, it takes longer than driving (other than down town) and trains are not frequent enough. Although a few members of this group were aware of busses that would take them where they wanted to go, none take the bus because they would still have to pay for parking at the Metro station and buses are slower than driving.

Bad Weather (Group 3)

Acknowledging there was not much that can be done to change the weather, Group 3 applied itself to the problem of making the Beltway safer during bad weather. The first suggestion was doing a better job of snow plowing. Several participants said that they believe a better job of snow plowing is being done at present than was done in the past but plows could get out a little earlier.

Another participant said that he thought rain was more of a safety problem than snow. A woman suggested grooved pavement. A man said that reflective lane markers would help. There was some discussion about the difficulty of maintaining reflective lane markers in the area's climate.

Bad Weather (Group 5)

Although weather was tied with speed and unsafe lane changes as the most serious crash causes, one of the participants in Group 5 decided he wanted to talk about weather first. The group went along with it because, as aggressive drivers, they really did not want to talk about the other two problems.

The person who changed the subject wanted to get a second chance to sell the group on "Botts Dots" as lane markers, a subject he had previously mentioned. Another person in the group reacted, saying "Yeah, but the snow plows will rip them up." A third person said she thought they had already done it. Someone else said they tried recessed reflective markers and he understood that freezing water pushed them up and there are now potholes where the markers used to be.

One of the women said she liked the overhead signs that told people to slow down when the roads are slippery ahead. One of the men said that those signs are really dangerous because people actually do slow down, and those of us who are driving 70 pile into the back of them. Seriously, he said, he has seen three or four crashes in the area of the signs.

An additional suggestion was better driver training teaching new drivers that they needed to adjust their driving to accommodate bad weather. A participant added that special attention should be paid to making drivers aware that the road is slipperiest when it first starts to rain.

Truck Blind Spots (North American Van Lines)

The terminal manager said that North American Van Lines recently sent out a company-wide directive that convex mirrors (like those used on school busses) must be installed ahead of the cab on the right side of every vehicle. The drivers said it would help a lot, because it is impossible to see low objects on that side of the vehicle with the current side view mirrors. One of the operators also suggested that some kind of audible alarm, like a back up horn, should be installed about half way back on the trailer He thinks this would help warn cars that they should either speed up or fall back if a truck does not see them and starts to pull over. Another driver added that the turn signals should be bigger and brighter, and perhaps be arrow shaped to give motorists better warning and fewer excuses.

Driver Training (Roadway Express)

Commercial drivers from Roadway Express believe that drivers should get better training. They do not think that regular driver training courses give new drivers enough time behind the wheel. Also, they are not taught many of the things commercial drivers are taught. One example is the "Smith System" which they said is looking and planning ahead as far as possible to avoid potential problems. They said it would be a good idea to require people to receive additional on-road instruction after they have been driving for a while to correct any bad habits they have developed. The truckers would be in favor of requiring additional on-road training periodically as part of the license renewal process. Courtesy ought to be one of the major elements of continuing driver education, according to these drivers.