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U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation
FHWA Highway Safety Programs

Executive Summary


The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (FHWA/NHTSA) contracted with The Center for Applied Research (CAR) and its subcontractor The Media Network, Inc. (TMN) to conduct research related to Hispanic pedestrian and bicycle safety. As part of this research, TMN and CAR investigated crash statistics for this population group, made contacts to Hispanic organizations to collect information and build partnerships, and held eight (8) focus groups with Hispanic bicyclists and pedestrians. This research was designed to enable FHWA/NHTSA to better understand the attitudes and beliefs of Hispanics living in the U.S. concerning these issues. The results will allow FHWA/NHTSA to develop effective communication strategies and programs that will complement its existing information and services.

This report primarily presents results from the focus group portion of this research, although we briefly discuss the partnership-building component to add context. TMN facilitated eight (8) focus groups with adults in Washington, DC, New York, Miami, and Los Angeles. Sixty-two (62) adults participated in these groups, twenty-eight (28) men and thirty-four (34) women. Participants were Hispanic men and women, over the age of 18, who either walked or rode their bicycles regularly.

Following this executive summary, additional information is presented on the logistics of the focus groups, which is followed by a detailed report of findings from the groups (one report on the pedestrian groups, and another on the bicyclist groups). The Appendix contains the moderator's guides used in the focus groups (in both Spanish and English), as well as the screening form that was used to recruit participants to attend the groups (in both Spanish and English). The Appendix also contains a handout of various U.S. traffic signs that was used in some of the groups.

Focus groups seek to develop insight and direction. The value of focus groups is in their ability to provide observers with unfiltered comments from a segment of the target population, and for decision-makers to gain insight into the beliefs, attitudes, and perceptions of the target audience. However, because of the limited number of respondents and the non-random nature of focus group recruiting, the findings from the focus groups cannot be quantitatively projected to a universe of similar respondents.

Partnership and Coalition Building Main Findings

The Media Network (TMN) contacted over 100 Hispanic community-based organizations in New York, Miami, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C. to learn more about the work these organizations are doing related to this issue, and to assess their overall interest in this topic. The goal was that these organizations would work in partnership with us to provide data regarding crash statistics, and to provide us with information on what actions, if any, are going on at the local level about this topic. The response from these organizations was somewhat disappointing, with many organizations not returning our calls. The organizations we were able to talk to generally did not have much information on this topic. A few provided reports, essays, or other documents with relevant information, or even personal stories about accidents they had witnessed or heard about. However, most organizations did not have such information. We did not find any significant local efforts related to this issue.

Focus Group Main Findings

The main findings from our focus groups are consistent with the findings from the partnership calls: Hispanics in these focus groups had not given much thought to these issues, but, when brought to their attention, they find them interesting and important. Participants were especially interested in the fact that Hispanics are overrepresented in pedestrian and bicycle accidents. The Hispanics in these groups see cultural differences as a main potential cause of accidents among Hispanics, and cite major differences in traffic laws and enforcement between Latino countries and the U.S. They report a general lack of education on these issues, and few Spanish-language sources of information. Basic information designed for Spanish speakers on this topic would be greatly appreciated and well received by these audience groups. Additionally, participants said that new immigrants are particularly in need of such information. Participants did not think any one particular group of Hispanics (e.g. Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, and Central Americans) was most at risk, however.

The main findings from these groups include:

  • There are significant cultural differences that affect how Hispanics behave as pedestrians and bicyclists in the United States. Participants told us that traffic rules are enforced more stringently in the United States than in Latino countries, that the U.S. has more signs and regulations than Latino countries, and that police officers in the U.S. are less corrupt. In general, participants said that these differences made Hispanics more prone to "disorder" (e.g. jaywalking), and less likely to report accidents when they do happen. They said that Hispanic neighborhoods in the U.S. are also more disorderly as a result, and that these neighborhoods may also be home to more accidents.
  • Many features of the U.S. traffic system appear to be somewhat unfamiliar to Hispanics. Participants told us that many signs are the same across cultures, but that signs that rely heavily on writing in English can be confusing (e.g. the Yield sign or Walk/Don't Walk signals). Participants also told us that traffic moves faster in the U.S., and complained about inadequate amounts of time to cross the street in this country. Crosswalks appear to be less common in Latino countries.
  • Participants told us that new immigrants, in particular, are unfamiliar with U.S. traffic laws, placing them at potentially higher risk.
  • While U.S. drivers were seen as more respectful of pedestrians and bicyclists than those in Latino countries, participants still complained about a lack of respect from drivers. This is particularly a concern because Hispanics said that socio-economic disparities make them less likely to be drivers, and because in a crash "the car always wins."
  • Hispanic pedestrians and bicyclists reported that there is a lack of basic information on pedestrian and bicycle safety. Much knowledge on this topic appears to be spread informally peer to peer, and the result is vague knowledge about laws. This is especially pronounced among cyclists. All groups indicated that they have limited ways to learn such information. Many group members said their main source of such knowledge (other than their peers) was taking the driver's exam. Materials in Spanish are particularly lacking.
  • Participants reported that they sometimes knowingly do things that put them at risk. For example, almost all participants in the pedestrian group had jaywalked, and many cyclists say they do not always stop when it is required. These behaviors are primarily motivated by a desire to get to one's destination faster, and, to a lesser extent, by a belief in fatalism or destiny. In some cases, however, participants reported breaking the law to feel safer (e.g. biking on the sidewalk if the street is very busy).
  • Participants do take some safety precautions, such as trying to be alert, making eye contact with drivers, or wearing safety gear (e.g. helmets for bicyclists) or brightly colored clothing. Some behaviors are more common than others are, however. For example, most bicyclists did not report wearing helmets.
  • Pedestrians and bicyclists both cite automobiles as a primary cause of crashes, and participants strongly believe that education on this topic needs to involve drivers as well as pedestrians and bicyclists. In addition, pedestrians cite bicyclists as a cause of crashes, and bicyclists cite pedestrians (especially children) as a cause of crashes. A lack of safe places to walk and ride is another cited cause of crashes.
  • Crashes are likely underreported for Hispanic pedestrians and cyclists. Many participants cited fear of the police and illegal immigration status as reasons Hispanics may not contact the police. Additionally, they say that reporting crashes is much less common in Latino countries. However, all examples of serious accidents mentioned in the groups (e.g. fatalities) were reported to the authorities.
  • Children, senior citizens, and recent immigrants were all thought to be more at risk of getting in crashes than other groups because of their lack of awareness, lack of mobility, and lack of acculturation, respectively.
  • Focus group members did not think that country of origin made a significant impact in pedestrian or cyclist behaviors, and participants in all four cities identified similar themes and issues.
  • Group members thought that additional education on this topic and fines would help to address this problem. They felt that Hispanics need to be educated concerning U.S. traffic and safety rules. This education should take the form of booklets, guides, advertising, and other information campaigns. At the same time, monetary fines ($40-$75) were also seen as an effective way to underline the seriousness of such violations. Many participants said the only way they would learn would be to "get a fine."

Conclusions and Recommendations

TMN and CAR offer the following conclusions and recommendations:

  • FHWA/NHTSA should consider designing and implementing a campaign for pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers around the idea of "respect." This respect needs to flow mutually among all parties, and should include respect for the law as well. Such a campaign should be broadly targeted, but should include Hispanics and bilingual materials.
  • Hispanics, and recent immigrants in particular, need information that is bilingual and that clearly explains common U.S. traffic laws, signs, rules, and behaviors. Such a guide should be available in Hispanic community centers, government offices, schools, and other locations. A guide should also explain the various safety devices that are available, how they work, and what they cost.
  • Information campaigns specifically for Hispanics should focus on the need to obey U.S. traffic laws such as stopping at lights and crossing only in walkways. Other topics that are likely to be of interest to Hispanics include information on how cars react to snow and ice, how to use crosswalks, pedestrian/cyclists rights and responsibilities, and that Hispanics are more likely to be involved in such crashes and therefore need to be more alert.
  • Finally, group members emphasized the importance of using graphics on traffic signs for non-English speakers and low literacy individuals, and indicated that they might be more willing to use safety devices (e.g. bicycle helmets) if such devices were available for free or at a reduced cost.