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Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-05-078
Date: November 2005

Driver Attitudes and Behaviors at Intersections and Potential Effectiveness of Engineering Countermeasures

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CHAPTER 1. INTRODUCTION

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is currently examining several general safety areas: driver behavior at intersections, the development of tools and procedures for intersection design, and human factors literature reviews for Safety R&D program areas, including Intersections, Pedestrians and Bicyclists, Speed Management, and Visibility. The goals for the safety research program are to gain a better understanding of driver behavior and attitudes about intersections, and available countermeasures.

As a part of this program, research was conducted to provide FHWA with information about key attitudes and behavioral influences in intersection driving performance, perceptual and cognitive bottlenecks and constraints that can negatively impact intersection safety, and engineering or educational countermeasures for intersection safety with the greatest likely impact on performance and safety.1

This research includes a task analysis of driver performance at intersections, a literature review on human factors research as it relates to highway infrastructure, and focus group discussions that explore driver attitudes and behaviors at intersections. Figure 1 summarizes the information flow and shows how activities, processes, and results will be combined to produce this knowledge.

At the first level, task analysis, literature review/engineering analysis, and focus groups are major areas for analysis and integration. Through analysis and integration, this investigation yields three project deliverables: key attributes and behavioral influences, key perceptual and cognitive constraints, and countermeasure strategies with greatest likely return.

Figure 1. Flow of research inputs, activities, and deliverables.

This report describes the results of the focus group portion of this research. A primary goal of the focus group component was to provide qualitative information and insight to complement the analytical and quantitative information obtained in the other components of this research. There is a great deal of important qualitative information about driver intersection behavior including the different strategies and approaches to intersection driving that drivers can adopt; their attitudes, behaviors, and motivations; and their safety concerns.

1This research was conducted as task B.1 of the Integrated Program for the Interactive Highway Safety Design Model and Safety Research project for FHWA.

Focus group discussions provide an established method to obtain this rich information. Such discussions allow researchers to probe responses and introduce new ideas in a flexible manner that cannot be achieved with quantitative research. Also focus groups provide continual feedback and exchange between the moderator and the respondents. Such an opportunity for self-correction more robust and accurate responses. For example, if an answer or response is unclear or ambiguous, the interviewer can rephrase the question and gather desired insights accordingly. If new ideas emerge during a focus group, the interviewer can investigate them further. Also, initial and nonrehearsed reactions to scenarios can shed light on participant decisionmaking processes and the relative importance of factors they consider.

Qualitative research is usually reported discursively, often in respondents' own words. This ensures reporting accuracy with minimal interpretive bias. The moderator and the observers also play key roles in interpreting and reporting information from the groups. The interviewer's role is to process information from respondents, interpreting both verbal and nonverbal responses and to probe for underlying motivations and emotions associated with what respondents say they believe and do. Sometimes, however, what participants may say is not what they actually do. These discrepancies are addressed in the analysis and report when the moderator contributes interpretations and inferences and points out contradictions or subtle differences that took place during the groups. Note, however, that these observations cannot correct for all differences between respondents' perceptions and their actual actions that are not inherently obvious.

Because the samples are small and not representative of the total population, and thus minimally generalizable, qualitative research cannot be a valid substitute for quantitative research. Since the research relies on nondirective, semistructured interviews, the stimulus situation is not the same for every respondent. Therefore, focus group studies should not be viewed as definitive; quantitative research is also necessary to arrive at indepth conclusions.

The body of this report contains three technical chapters and five appendixes:

  • Chapter 2 describes the methods used to conduct the focus group interviews. It includes summaries of the participant screener and a Moderator Guide, in addition to a description of activities associated with:
    • Selecting test sites.
    • Refining recruitment screeners, Moderator Guides, and developing focus group materials
    • Identifying, screening, and scheduling respondents.
    • Organizing and scheduling focus group facilities, including audiovisual capabilities.
    • Conducting the focus groups, including rescreening and take-home surveys.
    • Analyzing and providing a topline summary of the focus group discussion highlights.
  • Chapter 3 provides the results from the focus groups.
  • Chapter 4 provides the conclusions from the focus groups.
  • Appendix A provides the participant screener that was used to identify and schedule potential focus group participants.
  • Appendix B provides the moderator guide that was used to guide the focus group topics and discussions.
  • Appendix C provides the take-home survey that was given to participants at the conclusion of each focus group session and then mailed back to the project team for analysis.
  • Appendix D provides a tabular summary of the focus group results.

 

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