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Behaviors and Attitudes


NHTSA studies behaviors and attitudes in highway safety, focusing on drivers, passengers, pedestrians, and motorcyclists. We identify and measure behaviors involved in crashes or associated with injuries, and develop and refine countermeasures to deter unsafe behaviors and promote safe alternatives.

Our recently published reports are listed chronologically below. To the right are additional resources including Behavioral Research Notes and Traffic Techs.

139 Results

2016 Motor Vehicle Occupant Safety Survey;Volume 2: Seat Belt Report

This report describes Volume 2 (seat belts), part of the four volumes of results of NHTSA’s  seventh (2016) Motor Vehicle Occupant Safety Survey of nationally representative, self-reported behaviors, attitudes, and knowledge related to various traffic safety topics. While the focus of the survey is adult seat belt use and child passenger safety, there are also questions about emergency medical services, crash injury experience, emergency situations, air bags, speeding, cell phone use, and alcohol-impaired driving. Specifically, it explores (1) 2016 self-reported seat belt use, (2) reasons for seat belt use and non-use, (3) attitudes concerning the utility of seat belts, and (4) attitudes, knowledge, and experience with seat belt laws and their enforcement.

The 2016 Motor Vehicle Occupant Safety Survey: Seat Belt Report Traffic Tech

This Traffic Safety Facts Traffic Tech briefly summarizes the 2016 Motor Vehicle Occupant Safety Survey (MVOSS) Seat Belt Report, showing that although most drivers use seat belts, a sizeable minority (estimated 10% in 2017) choose not to wear belts. Furthermore, while statistics from NHTSA’s National Center for Statistics and Analysis indicate that the percentage of fatally injured passenger vehicle occupants who were unbelted has decreased over the past 10 years from 54%  percent in 2007 to 48%  percent in 2016, the portion remains high at almost half of all passenger vehicle fatalities.

Young Driver Survey

The over-representation of young drivers in crashes and road fatalities is a serious public health concern and imposes substantial human, social, and economic costs. Contributing factors to crash risk include exposure, inexperience, distraction, recklessness, and social influence from peer passengers. Fortunately, young driver motor vehicle crashes are preventable, and proven strategies can improve the safety of young drivers on the road. The Young Driver Survey explored traffic safety attitudes and beliefs of young people 16 to 21 years old residing in Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, Nebraska, and Oklahoma. This questionnaire explored issues with the driving experiences of younger drivers and identified key challenges to safety measures. About 18,000 respondents (n = 17,698) completed the survey.

Young Driver Survey: Traffic Tech

Although young drivers represented only 5.4% of all licensed drivers in 2016, they represented 8.9% of drivers involved in fatal crashes, a leading cause of death among young people. Factors influencing young drivers’ risk of crash include age-related immaturity, lack of driving experience, and risky behaviors like speeding and distraction. To better understand these factors and design better countermeasures, NHTSA conducted a survey on the self-reported traffic safety behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs of young drivers 16 to 21 years old in five States. This report briefly summarizes those results.

Motorcyclists’ Attitudes on Using High-Visibility Gear To Improve Conspicuity A Study Conducted Under NCREP — The National Cooperative Research and Evaluation Program Findings From A Focus Group Study

Multi-vehicle motorcycle crash research suggests difficulty detecting motorcycles is a relevant factor. Countermeasures increase conspicuity of a motorcycle rider by wearing high-visibility gear, especially at night or in low-light conditions, yet many riders do not wear high-visibility gear. This report describes a study exploring why riders will or won’t wear high-visibility gear. Eighteen focus groups of 137 riders in Maryland, California, Texas, and Michigan discussed their attitudes, beliefs and preferences regarding high-visibility gear. The groups consisted of riders of the same gender and who ride the same motorcycle type (cruiser, touring motorcycle, or sport motorcycle). Findings revealed that a minority of participants regularly wear high-visibility gear. Primary reasons for not wearing high-visibility apparel were objections to appearance and the belief that it does not fit with their riding culture.

Safety Performance of Rechargeable Energy Storage Systems

This report describes objective test procedures based on failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA) for meaningful, comparable, and quantitative evaluations of Li-ion-based rechargeable energy storage systems (RESSs) in electrically propelled platforms. These are applicable to all components of RESS and ancillary vehicle systems associated with electric propulsion; they can also serve as best practice guides for safety assessment of future designs. RESS safety performance is assessed with single and dual-point failure modes during all normal and abnormal operating conditions including charging, vehicle storage, operation, crash event, and post-crash state.

Social Media Practices in Traffic Safety

This study researched how State Highway Safety Offices (SHSOs) are using social media, and the opportunities, benefits, and challenges social media presents. While social media continues to rapidly evolve, this report provides statistical analysis on the state of the practice of SHSO social media. It also describes new and creative ways SHSOs are sharing information, ideas, and other content – and how these activities can be measured or tracked. It provides promising practices and case study examples for using social media in traffic safety programming, and can be a tool for traffic safety programmers to design social media programs.

Mild Cognitive Impairment and Driving Performance

The objective of this project was to explore differences in driving performance and exposure between participants with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) – operationally defined through recognized clinical methods – and a comparison group of drivers of comparable age who did not meet those criteria. MCI refers to an intermediary, symptomatic state between age-appropriate cognitive decline and dementia. An initial literature review revealed a lack of clear boundaries between these cognitive status categories, which led researchers to consider continuous measures of cognitive impairment to predict road test performance and exposure. Thirty-eight participants were recruited. Clinical measures, administered by a certified driver rehabilitation specialist (CDRS), included the trail-making and maze tests, plus the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA). The Functional Activities Questionnaire (FAQ) was used to obtain participants' self-reports indicating cognitive status. A CDRS also administered the road tests in two study locations (in and near Roanoke and Richmond, Virginia). Exposure data were recorded with GPS loggers and cameras installed in participants' own vehicles for approximately one month. Regression models identified MoCA scores, and to a lesserextent Maze Test scores, as significant predictors of road test results, particularly with respect to tactical driving tasks.There were no significant regression models for analyses of exposure measures. Analysis of impairment status (not impaired, MCI, or moderate cognitive impairment) using only the MoCA classifications showed that those classified as unimpaired received significantly fewer points off on the on-road assessment than those classified as MCI, and this difference increased when comparing the unimpaired to those with any level of impairment. While the evidence was mixed regarding the extent to which MCI drivers appropriately self-restrict their exposure, MoCA appears to be a practical tool for occupational therapist generalists to use in identifying referrals for a comprehensive driving evaluation.

Older Drivers and Navigation Devices

This project examined measures related to older adults’ driving performance while they drove to a familiar destination without navigation aids, and when following new routes they had not previously driven using paper directions or an electronic navigation system (ENS), often called a “GPS.” Phase 1 also explored the effects of experience/familiarity using an ENS on driving, route-following, and manual destination entry task performance. Phase 2 explored the impact of training in ENS use on driving behavior and destination entry performance. Phase 1 found that on average all age and familiarity groups exhibited better driving performance when using the ENS compared to paper directions. The 70-and-older group members who were previously unfamiliar with the use of an ENS had the poorest driving test scores. The Phase 1 destination entry task focused on determining whether the drivers could correctly enter addresses into the device. People in their 60s performed better on this task than did those in their 70s, and participants who were familiar with ENS outperformed those who were not. Phase 2 showed that training on the use of an ENS did not improve driving performance, but did improve performance on destination entry tasks. This study suggests that ENS systems are difficult for older drivers to program, but training such as that developed for the study can improve the ability of these drivers to correctly enter destinations. Any driving performance benefits the systems may afford drivers cannot be realized if a user cann't correctly input a destination or becomes frustrated and rejects the use of the ENS device altogether.

Feasibility of Modeling the Relationship Between Seat Belt Program Inputs and Outcomes

The objective of this project was to determine the feasibility of building a model that could be used as a decision-making tool for State Highway Safety Offices (SHSOs) to help predict how resource adjustments could affect seat belt use (both positively and negatively) to avoid inadvertent negative effects on seat belt use rates and unrestrained fatalities. To accomplish this objective, the study focused on 1) exploring the existence, availability, and quality of data needed to build a useful model; 2) preparing a description of the types of models that may be worth exploring given the data that are likely available; and 3) discussing the implications of the findings for future model development.
The overall conclusion of the study was that while the available evidence points to potential feasibility, it is not clear that the input variables would provide sufficient precision to create a useful predictive model due to limitations regarding what is available to the SHSOs.

For Access to older content please go to our archived Research page.