During the first meeting of the steering committee, a matrix was developed for the overall structure of the focus group research, to provide the maximum diversity of locations and participants. The budget allowed for focus groups in four geographically diverse cities, with four discussions held in each city, providing for a total of 16 discussions. In general the groups were designed to gather information from 15- to 18-year-old drivers. These drivers were divided into female and male groups to ensure optimal participation. Because of their increased involvement in crashes, the steering committee recommended that more discussions be held with males than with females and that the male groups be divided according to driving behavior. That is, the male screener for two cities included questions provided by NHTSA to identify tendencies toward riskier behavior. The screeners for all categories of groups are discussed in the next subsection and provided in the appendices.
The steering committee also requested that the discussions with the teen drivers include a mix of focus groups (groups of 10 to 12 participants who do not know each other) and affinity groups (smaller groups of four or five friends). The reason for this is that groups of friends may tend to be more open about their driving experiences since they are among friends rather than strangers. Affinity groups can also delve deeper into a given topic because of their smaller size.
The matrix below presents the overall structure for the focus groups.
The Affinity group discussion for a participant category was scheduled after its respective focus group so that it was possible to explore any significant topics in greater depth.
The goal of scheduling focus group discussions in four cities was to provide as much geographic and ethnic diversity as possible. Making the logistics arrangements with four different field service companies, however, was problematic at best.
In our initial research to locate field service companies, we located a single company, the Field Work Network that provides field services in 11 different cities, geographically dispersed throughout the Nation. Working with the COTR, we selected four cities for the focus groups and established a schedule, as shown below:
The Field Work Network, working though its affiliates in each of the four cities, assumed responsibility for recruiting participants from their collective databases of more than 200,000 individuals, providing the meeting and observation rooms, and videotaping the sessions. PerformTech provided the facilitator and an observer.
PerformTech developed the screeners used by the Field Work Network to recruit participants for the focus groups and affinity groups. The screeners used for the two types of focus groups (Generic Males and Generic Females, and Risky and Safer Males) are provided in Appendix A. In the recruitment process, the Field Work interviewers asked the teens a series of questions. For the Fort Lee and Seattle focus groups the questions addressed age, ethnicity, (Caucasian, African American, Hispanic, or other minority) cell phone ownership, length of driving experience, and type of housing, to provide a mix of urban and suburban respondents. The same questions were asked of the male and female respondents.
The Minneapolis and Atlanta focus groups only included males. The participants were divided into Risk-Taking Drivers and Safer Drivers. In addition to the basic screening questions mentioned above, the recruiters in these two locations asked additional questions to sort the respondents into the appropriate group. These questions probed the respondents’ attitudes towards driving and the skills of other drivers as well as their history of citations and crashes. A total of nine risk factors were identified and an individual was to be assigned to the Risky Driver group if he scored positive for four or more. However, during the recruiting process it was determined that the teens were probably not responding truthfully to the more “damning” questions dealing with such factors as drunk driving and receiving traffic citations. Therefore the recruiters were allowed to assign a respondent to the Risk group if he scored positive for two or more risk factors.
The recruiters maintained a record of all participants recruited for the focus groups and these documents are available for review of desired. The table below provides a summary of the profiles for each of the four cities.
The focus groups and affinity groups were designed to address the following research issues:
Specific objectives for the focus groups include the following:
The discussion guidelines developed for the focus groups are included in Appendix B. Based on the reactions received to the questions included in these guidelines, some ad hoc modifications were made to the questions, but these modifications did not affect the overall intent of the questions. Rather they were added to stimulate the desired discussion. For example, the guidelines included the questions below:
“Have you received any traffic citations for a moving violation?”
It quickly became clear that many teens have been pulled over for a traffic violation but they
Have you ever been pulled over for a traffic violation?
Why did you not get a traffic citation for this incident?
Similarly, many teens responded that they had never been involved in a traffic crash. However,
The initial guidelines asked the teens to rate their driving ability. This question was ultimately
How would you rate your driving competency (handling the vehicle in normal and hazardous conditions?)
How would you rate your driving responsibility (adherence to traffic laws, aggressive or
With these two characteristics separate, the teens were able to acknowledge their high level of confidence in their driving ability while recognizing their tendency towards irresponsible behaviors.
These modifications represent the only significant departures from the original guidelines presented in the March 13th Focus Group Plan.
Given the variability and unpredictability of adolescents, there were amazingly few problems with the methods proposed in the original focus group plan. The few problems that did arise involved three program elements:
Risky Driver Screening: As indicated above, the Field Work Network recruiters reported that they did not believe they were getting honest answers to the questions concerning drinking and driving and traffic citations that were included in the primary screening for risky drivers. Without these two risk factors it was difficult to recruit sufficient “risky drivers” for the focus groups. Therefore, PerformTech adjusted the threshold from four risk factors (out of nine) to two. However, we do not believe that this change affected the overall composition of the groups. The teens that participated in the risky driver groups reported having received traffic citations (or being pulled over) even though they denied this fact during screening. It is likely that a parent was nearby during the screening discussions while confidentiality was assured during the focus groups.
Housing Type Screening: It was hoped that participants in focus group would represent a mix of ethnic and geographic backgrounds. Since focus group field service centers are located in major market areas, it was assumed that it would be difficult to recruit true rural residents but every effort was made to provide at least a mix of urban and suburban residents. Housing type was used as a surrogate for area of residence, with the assumption that apartments would be more common in urban areas. However, with the exception of the Fort Lee, New Jersey, location, recruiters found it difficult to locate participants living in apartments or townhouses. The majority of participants were suburban. However, in Minneapolis and Atlanta, participants indicated that a lot of their driving was on rural roads.
Affinity Groups versus Focus Groups: Affinity Groups were recommended by the Working Group as a means of delving deeper into topics and confirming the information gathered during focus groups. The assumption is that teens who know each other will be more forthcoming and can encourage each other to provide more honest answers to questions. We found this to be true. The downside is that it is harder to control a group of teens who are comfortable with each other – there are more side conversations and general laughing and joking. This made it a little more difficult to address all the desired topics in the time available.
Recruiting for the affinity groups was limited to the single sponsor of the group who was asked to bring four or five friends. For the risky and safer males, it was assumed that a risky male would likely bring equally risky friends. This assumption proved correct in all but one instance. In Minneapolis a male was identified as a risky driver because of his driving record and the fact that he spent seven days in juvenile detention for stealing a car and then wrecking it in a police chase. The friends this young man brought to the affinity group reflected the change he was effecting in his life because of his experience. He and his new friends were now all exemplary drivers.
Screening for Age: While the original intent was to recruit 15- through 18-year-olds, it was difficult to locate 15-year-olds (and even 16-year-olds) with any behind-the-wheel driving experience. As a result, the groups were skewed toward 17- and 18-year-old teens. The younger teens who participated also had fewer experiences to report making it harder to draw any comparisons between age groups.