Report of Focus Group Discussions in Washington, New York, Miami, and Los Angeles
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
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
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
- 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
- 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
- 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.