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How do observational studies of driver behavior lead to safer driving?

NOPUS: Are you driving safely?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration use observational surveys of driver and occupant behavior to encourage vehicle occupants to wear safety belts and for drivers to refrain from calling or texting while driving. These agencies promote safe driving and sponsor special law enforcement programs, demonstration projects, and public outreach campaigns in an effort to increase restraint and motorcycle helmet usage and reduce driver distraction. Observational surveys help measure the success of these programs.

  • Westat conducts 3 surveys on behalf of the agencies:
    • The National Occupant Protection Use Survey (NOPUS) is conducted every year at about 2,000 sites and collects data on seat belt use, helmet use among motorcycle riders, child safety seat use, texting and hand-held phone use, and demographic characteristics.
    • The National Survey of the Use of Booster Seats focuses on appropriate child seat use.
    • The Seat Belt Use by Commercial Motor Vehicle Drivers monitors belt use and cell phone use among the drivers and occupants of commercial vehicles.
  • Westat trains up to 150 field data collectors and uses Android-based tablets to collect data. We incorporate GPS technology to provide driving directions to data collection sites and continuous monitoring of field staff locations. Our geographic information systems (GIS) staff perform complex scheduling and mapping procedures. Data are transmitted each night and reviewed promptly to ensure accuracy and completeness.
  • The results of the surveys are used to produce estimates of restraint use, helmet use, and driver use of cell phones for the Nation as a whole, for each region of the country, for groups of states with different types of seat belt laws, and by demographic groups.
  • These data are used to identify safety issues, and develop and evaluate the effectiveness of programs to encourage safer driving.

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