Rural Pickup Truck Drivers and Safety Belt Use: Focus Group Report



Technical Report Page

Executive Summary


Defining the Problem


Gender and Other Characteristics

Laws Pertaining to Children and Cargo Areas

Focus Groups: Background

Moderator's Guide and Topics of Discussion

Focus Groups: Findings

Focus Group Participants' Attitudes Toward Safety Measures

Focus Group Participants' Safety Belt Use

Focus Group Participants' Responses to Specific Reasons/Approaches

Focus Group Responses to Existing Campaign Approaches - English-Speaking Group

Focus Group Responses to Existing Campaign Approaches - Hispanic Group

Campaign Component Development - English-Speaking Group

Campaign Component Development - Hispanic Group



List of Tables

List of Figures






The findings of the eight focus groups revealed consistency of thought, opinion, and ideas. The men gave clear reasons why they did not wear their safety belts. The Spanish-speaking men, more often than not, expressed similar reasons for not wearing their safety belts. Nearly all of the participants agreed on the best approaches and elements for educational and enforcement campaign development to encourage pickup truck drivers to wear their safety belts.

The findings of the current report parallel the 1996 NHTSA study of young male pickup truck drivers ages 16-26 in rural areas of Texas and Kentucky (Bradbard, et al., 1996). A number of concerns about safety belt use remain the same:

  • More concerned with their actions as they affect people to whom they feel close;
  • Messages should be brief and simply stated;
  • Messages should show direct consequences to non-user;
  • There are common misconceptions and misinformation about safety belt effectiveness;.
  • Messages about death should focus on family and other loved ones left behind;
  • Messages about occupant injuries should focus on loss of limb or paralysis and being confined to a wheelchair;
  • Appeals should be made relating to family values; and
  • Multi-media approach was preferred (radio, TV, print), but not a deluge of information.

In the current study there was no doubt that male pickup trucks drivers consider the subject of safety belt use to be serious and on an intellectual level they understand that there are safety advantages. They want their children to wear them and understand why their wife, mother, girlfriend, and other loved ones wear their safety belts and are glad they do. Perhaps that is why there was nearly complete agreement about not using humor in the message. They just don't find the subject to be something to joke about and showed concern about children misinterpreting the seriousness of the issue. This was true across age and ethic groups.

For many men, there was an element in play that had nothing to do with understanding the problem and potential consequences of not wearing a safety belt. Many did not believe that it was the government's right or responsibility to mandate safety belt usage. Two earlier NHTSA studies using focus groups had similar findings: "Program Strategies For Increasing Safety Belt Usage in Rural Areas" and "Increasing Seat Belt Use Among Part Time Users: Messages and Strategies." Both studies found that issues of personal control, independence, and freedom of choice were frequently mentioned as reasons for not wearing a safety belt.

Nearly all of the participants in the current study pointed out inconsistencies with State laws in other highway safety areas. Some States lack motorcycle helmet laws and yet have laws that require safety belt use. Many of the men raised this example as a justification for not only ignoring the safety belt law but also as a reason why the government should not mandate safety belt use.

Whether young or old, the men were not impressed with statistical facts as a motivator to increase safety belt use. There was a general consensus that numbers can be used to prove whatever point one chooses to make, at least one individual was impressed with facts about rollover crashes and ejection.

There is an apparent lack of understanding about airbags. Some pickup truck drivers fail to see the need to wear their safety belts in the presence of an airbag. Great strides have been made with regard to informing the general motoring public about the dangers of allowing infants, babies, toddlers and children under age twelve to ride in the front seat where they could be exposed to the impact of an activated airbag. Similar campaigns should be developed that focus on male pickup truck drivers that show how an airbag can work both for and against occupants, particularly what the likely crash outcome would be if the occupants were not wearing their safety belt.

New campaign development should strongly consider the consensus opinions as to where and why male pickup truck drivers in rural areas of the U.S. do not wear their safety belts. Key elements in message development should address and/or refute the following about safety belts. Safety belts are:

  • Uncomfortable;
  • Restrictive;
  • A "hassle" - especially when in and out of a vehicle;
  • A debatable safety benefit;
  • A concern; one could get trapped in a vehicle;
  • An issue of personal freedom of choice - whether to wear one or not;
  • Not needed on local roads and low speed limits;
  • Not needed on short trips;
  • Not needed in good weather; and
  • Not needed in a pickup truck because they are a larger vehicle and thus safer.

New campaigns should be designed to emphasize crash fears and concerns that were repeatedly voiced by most of the participants. The Hispanic men and all of the younger men were not concerned about dying in a crash. Messages for these men should not show crashes that are so severe that survival in any event would be questionable. Crash fears to emphasize include:

  • Paralysis and wheelchair use;
  • Loss of limb; and
  • Impact on family; feelings of sadness and leaving them behind.

New messages and campaigns should include the following:

  • Use realism;
  • Be short and to the point;
  • Show consequences to family;
  • Show every day events, local areas, real people;
  • Film video messages in rural communities;
  • Spokesperson from the local community, celebrities are not recommended;
  • Show real people who have been in crashes;
  • Use First Responders who have gone to crash scenes;
  • "Medical Consequences" can be used for Hispanic and young male audiences;
  • Show the possibility of survival if safety belt had been used in a violent crash;
  • Film and record Hispanic versions that are not just language translations;
  • If statistics are used - use "1 out of 3," not 33 percent; and
  • Humor is not recommended.

Educational efforts and campaigns should address the following subject matter:

  • Low speed crashes - show crash damage and travel speed;
  • Airbags - ejection and rollovers;
  •   Short trips;
  • Hispanic and youth "fate" issues;
  • Develop the "habit" of wearing a safety belt;
  • Wearing a safety belt should be as automatic as putting the key in the ignition;
  • Reverse the "mind set" of freedom to choose to wear a safety belt;
  • Decide to wear a safety belt all the time versus deciding when to wear the safety belt;
  • Get used to the feel of the belt: develop countermeasures for discomfort; and
  • Evolution of DWI laws and societal acceptance compared to safety belt use acceptance.

Additional Issues

  • Many participants mentioned that higher fines for noncompliance with the safety belt laws would be an effective motivation for wearing their safety belt.
  • Primary enforcement of the safety belt laws in all States will continue to yield higher usage rates throughout all populations.
  • Commercial vehicle drivers are now required to wear safety belts. Now is an appropriate time to make the case to the States which do not require pickup truck occupants 18 years and older, to change their laws. If drivers of large trucks must wear safety belts, then pickup truck drivers should as well.
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