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U. S. Department of Transportation
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration


NHTSA People Saving People
DOT HS 808 705

April 1998

Introduction

Background

Method

Findings

Detailed Findings

General Discussion

Specific Issues

APPENDIX A

APPENDIX B


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

Trucks and Cars Complain About Each Other

Both truck drivers and motorists complained about the need to drive on the Beltway together. Some motorists said they were nervous around the large trucks and take steps to distance themselves from the trucks. The truck drivers, on the other hand, think that most motorists do not understand that trucks need more room to stop and have blind spots where they cannot see smaller vehicles.

Trucks were mentioned as a hazard of driving on the Beltway in every group of Beltway drivers. One motorist had survived a crash in which she and her husband were forced off the road by a truck that changed lanes. One trucker reported a crash, years ago in which he drove off the road to avoid a car that changed lanes in front of him. Others told stories about near misses and aggressive driving by truckers There also were complaints about debris falling off trucks and that trucks block the vision of drivers in smaller vehicles. However, only 2 percent of the 1997 participants (one person) identified trucks among the three things they believe are the most important causes of Beltway crashes, down from 14 percent in 1994.

Several motorists described the precautions they take around trucks. Some were very aware of where the blind spots are and that trucks are very difficult to slow down when heavily loaded. Yet others admitted to speeding up to prevent trucks from changing lanes ahead of them because they did not want the truck to impair their view ahead.

Awareness was very low for public information and educational campaigns that were supposed to better inform motorists about how to drive safely around trucks. The only group that had any knowledge of the "NoZone" campaign were the Roadway Express drivers because one of the participants in that group was filmed for the PSA produced for television. It evidently has received very little air time. A few more people were aware of an older campaign called Sharing the Road with Trucks, but knowledge of its content was superficial.

There was some support in the motorist groups for a rush hour truck ban on the Beltway. One person volunteered that trucks should be banned from the Beltway altogether. However, others in the group felt that truck bans might have serious economic repercussions. Truckers maintain that most people have no idea of the economic impact truck bans would have.

All the commercial drivers were aware of the left lane prohibition on the Beltway and most said it makes their job very difficult. Some said they are tempted, occasionally, to jump into the left lane but the fear of getting caught is enough to keep them from doing it. All were aware of the restriction of trucks carrying hazardous materials to the right two lanes of the Beltway. One driver disputes the wisdom of the rule, however. He contends that those lanes are the most dangerous lanes to be in because of more frequent lane changes as motorists approach their exits.

All of the commercial drivers claimed that the company they work for has an inspection program that exceeds the requirements. They prefer random inspections at the terminal to inspections at weigh stations or on the roadside. This is especially the case for drivers who are paid by weight or load because the time an inspection takes is money they do not make.

Most of the truck drivers have noticed the rollover prevention devices that have been installed on Beltway exits over the past couple of years. They generally do not perceive them as benefiting them personally because they are local and know which ramps can cause problems. They do believe the devices save lives and said there are additional locations where the signals would be beneficial.