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Shopping for Safety: Providing Consumer Automotive Safety Information 4 CONSUMER DECISION MAKING, INFORMATION NEEDS, AND COMMUNICATION STRATEGIES Designing a system that provides consumers with meaningful information about vehicle safety requires understanding how consumers think about automobile safety and how they search for and use information in making automobile purchase decisions. In the first section of this chapter a theoretical framework for understanding how consumers are likely to use information in making major product purchases is provided, and implications for the provision of automotive safety information are drawn. In the following two sections the knowledge from surveys and focus groups concerning how consumers think about automobile safety, how they incorporate safety and other attributes in making automobile purchase decisions, what safety information they would like, and how they search for and use information in the purchase decision process is summarized. In the final section, gaps in the current state of knowledge about consumer decision making and information needs are identified, and the research needed to fill these gaps is described. FRAMEWORK FOR UNDERSTANDING MAJOR PRODUCT PURCHASE DECISIONS Car purchasers are faced with an increasing number of vehicle features and options, which complicate their choices. As discussed in the preceding chapter, automotive safety information is plentiful and available from many sources, though it is sometimes difficult to interpret and not always easy to access. Moreover, car purchase decisions often involve difficult trade-offs, such as those between price, intended use, reliability, and safety. Thus consumers could benefit from better comparative information to help simplify their choices.
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Shopping for Safety: Providing Consumer Automotive Safety Information Information Processing Theory of Consumer Choice The nature of the decision problem, the context, the decision makers, and the available information together determine how and how much information is used in making a choice. To reach consumers, information must be available, provided at the appropriate time, and targeted to the intended audiences (Mazis and Staelin 1982, 4). The attention consumers give to information then depends on (a) internal factors, such as whether the information is perceived as helpful in achieving progress toward desired goals and whether it is consistent with their prior beliefs, and (b) external factors, which are related to the design and distinctiveness of the message, the intensity of the communication (multimedia, multisensory approaches), and the clarity of the message (absence of competing information) (Mazis and Staelin 1982, 5–7). The Decision Problem: Motive and Relevance Consumers make choices to achieve certain purposes or accomplish certain goals (Bettman 1979, 18). Their motivations, which are influenced by their beliefs and experience, affect both the direction and the intensity of search efforts (Bettman 1979, 18–19). The perceived importance of the task is critical to determining how much time and effort consumers devote to searching for information and comparing options (Bettman et al. 1991, 53). For example, a survey of consumer interest in independent product information (Brobeck 1993) conducted by the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) and the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) found that consumers had the greatest interest in obtaining information about high-cost products; new cars were at the top of the list. People heed information perceived to be important and relevant to them. Although individual drivers generally consider themselves safer than the average driver, they are concerned about the possibility of the negative consequences of driving, such as being in a crash, getting a ticket, losing one's license, or paying more for insurance (Williams et al. 1995, 123). The decision context also influences decision making. For example, consumers are likely to select and weight decision attributes differently, and may even make different choices, if they feel accountable to others (e.g., family members) or make the decision jointly (Bettman et al. 1991, 63).
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Shopping for Safety: Providing Consumer Automotive Safety Information Decision Maker Attributes Common cognitive constraints and differences in experience and circumstances influence decision making. Consumers have limits on their ability to use information (Bettman et al. 1991, 57). These cognitive limitations influence how consumers search for information, how they transform and use information to narrow their choices, and how they select among alternatives. Memory constraints, for example, affect both information search and retention. The processing of new information and the solving of problems are constrained by short-term or working memory,1 which holds a finite amount of information in a given format for a short period.2 This suggests that information should be kept limited, should not require complex transformations, and should be structured in related units that can assist recall (Bettman et al. 1991, 54–55). How people learn new information and how they recall old information are both influenced by the external cues that can activate memory retrieval, prior knowledge and beliefs, and how prior knowledge and beliefs are organized in long-term memory (Bettman et al. 1991, 57).3 People use new information within the context of their existing beliefs (Clement 1983; McCloskey 1983).4 If they know nothing about a topic, the information may be incomprehensible and dismissed. If they hold misconceptions, they may misinterpret new information or ignore it if it does not conform to their preconceptions (Morgan et al. 1992, 2050; Slovic 1987, 281). Beliefs about vehicle safety are likely to be no exception. Because nearly everyone has driven or ridden in a car, nearly all consumers have some knowledge of vehicle safety. But their understanding of what makes a car safe and how to use safety features varies widely and is heavily influenced by their own driving experiences. It follows that provision of accurate information alone is not likely to change beliefs; prior knowledge, beliefs, and the experience consumers bring to a decision have an important effect on the extent of information search undertaken and the way information is interpreted (Bettman et al. 1991, 70–71). Thus, knowing how people think and what they believe about vehicle safety can increase the probability that vehicle safety information will be understood and used as intended (Bostrom et al. 1994, 796). Once a choice has been made and a product purchased, the outcome will provide the consumer with new information that can affect
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Shopping for Safety: Providing Consumer Automotive Safety Information subsequent choices and the extent of information search for future purchases (Bettman 1979, 35). Decision Strategies Because consumers have limited capacity to use information, they typically use simplifying strategies or rules of thumb, known as heuristics, to help them decide among complex choices (Kahneman et al. 1982; Tversky and Kahneman 1974; Plous 1993). Consumers facing purchase decisions that require comparisons among numerous alternatives, like buying an automobile, tend to use decision strategies that lead to early elimination of alternatives, thereby minimizing complex computations and resolution of difficult trade-offs (Payne 1976 and Lussier and Olshavsky 1979 in Bettman et al. 1991, 63).5 Consumers tend to trade off the effort required to obtain and analyze information against the perceived benefit of making a correct decision. They expend less effort when it is less important to be accurate. 6 The more complex the decision problem and the greater the time pressure, the more likely consumers will use simplifying strategies. In such decisions, information is valuable to the extent that it is easy to use and compatible with the question the consumer is attempting to answer (Mazis and Staelin 1982, 11). It follows that the more simplified and summarized safety information is, the larger the potential number of users. A description of the many types of decision strategies that have been identified empirically is too lengthy for inclusion here,7 but the choice of strategy has implications for how automotive safety information might be used. Consumers who eliminate alternatives that do not meet satisfactory minimum values on all attributes are likely to desire different information and use information differently than consumers who look first at alternatives with the highest value on some most important attribute.8 Framing New Information It follows from the preceding discussion that information is most likely to be meaningful to consumers if it is clearly and simply presented and provides them with a frame of reference for comprehending the contents (e.g., rating scales, comparative information on similar products) (Mazis and Staelin 1982, 6, 7).
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Shopping for Safety: Providing Consumer Automotive Safety Information The way information is framed and presented affects how it is perceived (Fischhoff et al. 1993). For example, people appear to place more importance on negative information (Bettman et al. 1991, 67).9 The more explicit the information on risk and consequences, such as the likely severity of potential injury, the greater the perceived seriousness of the outcome and the more likely the information will be recalled (Laughery and Brelsford 1991, 123). Thus it is important to frame information so that consumers will perceive it as relevant to their circumstances (Bostrom et al. 1994, 796; Morgan et al. 1992, 2055). The way information is presented can also influence how it is used. For example, presentation of information in a table comparing automobiles on various attributes, including safety, encourages consumers to make trade-offs between safety and other characteristics. However, if safety and other information are available for only one model on a window sticker, making these comparisons is more difficult. Implications for Provision of Vehicle Safety Information What conclusions can be drawn from theory about designing meaningful consumer automotive safety information? First, because automobile purchases are complex decisions involving comparisons and trade-offs among many attributes, information about vehicle safety should be easy to access and use to ensure that consumers will consider it in their decision making. Information is most useful if it is limited to a few critical items, requires little transformation, helps simplify comparisons among alternatives, and conveys some sense of the certainty and validity of the underlying data. Second, information use and decision making are influenced by prior beliefs and knowledge. Consumers will use information to the extent that it is perceived as important, relevant, and consistent with their belief structure. Prior beliefs and experience derive from a number of sources, including previous automobile purchases and general familiarity with cars and driving. Thus, it is important to understand what consumers mean by and believe about automobile safety in designing information about vehicle safety. AUTOMOBILE PURCHASE DECISIONS AND THE IMPORTANCE OF VEHICLE SAFETY INFORMATION The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) first conducted market research on consumer attitudes about automobile
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Shopping for Safety: Providing Consumer Automotive Safety Information purchases and safety information during the mid-1970s and early 1980s in response to its legislative mandate to provide consumer information. 10 In response to a 1991 congressional request the agency conducted focus groups (S.W. Morris & Co. 1993) and a public meeting (NHTSA 1995a) to improve public awareness and user friendliness of the New Car Assessment Program (NCAP), and it held four town meetings around the country to solicit information about consumer attitudes and needs for automotive safety information (NHTSA 1995b). Focus groups and town meetings do not provide systematic information that can be generalized to the population at large, but they offer useful insights. The findings of relevant market research conducted by automobile manufac-turers, the insurance industry, and university researchers are also reported here to the extent that they shed light on what consumers know and believe about automobile safety, how they incorporate vehicle attributes —including safety—in automobile purchasing decisions, and how they might use additional vehicle safety information. Consumer Understanding of Vehicle Safety Characteristics An extensive search of publicly available information about what consumers know and believe about automobile safety yielded sparse results. Information about consumer understanding of what constitutes a “safe” car comes from a 1993 study by Volvo of recent new car buyers in Sweden.11 When asked to identify the characteristics of a “safe” car, nearly two-thirds of 300 respondents to a telephone questionnaire listed attributes related to the size and weight of the vehicle (e.g., large, robust, stable, and heavy), although it was not possible to isolate the importance of specific features like vehicle weight. The next most frequently mentioned characteristics included driver air bag (39 percent), side-impact protection (36 percent), and antilock brakes (30 percent). These responses, however, could have been biased because several of these vehicle features had been recent topics of public discussion (presentation to study committee by Ingrid Skogsmo, Automotive Safety Centre, Volvo Car Corporation, Nov. 16, 1995). The telephone respondents were also asked to identify safety-related design features that should be mandatory on all vehicles.12 Side-impact protection, the vehicle safety cage (i.e., a well-protected occupant compartment), antilock brakes, driver air bags, occupant protection in rollovers, shatterproof window glass, and passenger air bags received the highest ranking in that order.
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Shopping for Safety: Providing Consumer Automotive Safety Information There is little comparable information about what U.S. consumers know and believe about vehicle safety. The available information suggests that vehicle safety is often equated with the presence of specific safety features or technologies. For example, Ford Motor Company's new vehicle buyer survey reported that consumers are interested in whether vehicles have air bags or antilock brakes, but they do not ask about the performance of the equipment or of the vehicle as a whole (NHTSA 1994, 75, 80). When asked about what additional safety information they would like, participants in NHTSA's focus groups mentioned safety features, such as antilock brakes and air bags (S.W. Morris & Co. 1993, 18). However, few mentioned vehicle crash performance or crash test results; almost no one had heard of NCAP; and few outside of the Washington, D.C., area knew that NHTSA is a government agency (S.W. Morris & Co. 1993, 37). Many wanted to know what makes a car safe—the design, the way it is built, or other factors (S.W. Morris & Co. 1993, 44). The evidence is also limited about the extent to which U.S. consumers understand the relationship between safety and car size and weight. Some participants in NHTSA's focus groups were aware that large, heavy cars provide protection in a crash and were interested in information about the weight of the vehicle and the strength of construction (S.W. Morris & Co. 1993, 18–19). In a survey of prospective new car buyers by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), older drivers (60 years and above) rated large size as a very important consideration in buying a new car,13 but it was unclear whether the reason was comfort or safety (Ferguson 1992, 3). Two laboratory studies examined driver perceptions of the importance of specific mechanical systems (e.g., brakes, lights, and turning signals) on vehicle safety (MacGregor and Slovic 1989; Slovic et al. 1987). Both found quite diverse responses.14 The Automobile Purchasing Decision Process Data in the public domain concerning how consumers use information, including safety information, in making automobile purchase decisions are also limited. In-depth group interviews15 conducted as part of a comprehensive study of automobile consumer information for NHTSA (Booz, Allen Applied Research 1976) lend support to a two-stage process of automobile purchasing: first consumers choose a type or class
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Shopping for Safety: Providing Consumer Automotive Safety Information of car (e.g., compact, minivan), then they select a specific make and model from within that class (III-25, III-32). Consumers appear to be most interested in information about car size, price, body style (e.g., station wagon, sports car), and, in some cases, certain makes or manufacturers during the first stage of the process (Booz, Allen Applied Research 1976, D-12). More recent studies confirm this two-stage process. For example, a survey of new car16 purchasers found that nearly four-fifths of all consumers had made some decision about the cars they were interested in purchasing (e.g., which manufacturer, which dealer to purchase from) before their first visit to a dealer showroom (Punj 1987, 74, 77). Only 28 percent, however, had decided on a specific make of car (Punj 1987, 77). Another study that involved detailed interviews with salespersons at dealerships 17 found that consumers typically come to the dealership with preferences about body style and car size and views on expected car use, but only a small fraction were knowledgeable about the specific models available (Horowitz and Russo 1989, 393, 395). If this two-stage model approximates the diagram shown as Figure 4-1, which also encompasses the consumer's initial belief structure, then it has important implications for the provision of vehicle safety information. First, it suggests the need for information at various stages in the decision process—the point at which the consumer starts thinking about purchasing a car, the initial determination of the desired car type, and the final decision about the specific make and model. Second, it suggests the need for different types and levels of information at each stage. For example, a crashworthiness measure that does not allow comparisons across vehicle size categories is likely to be less relevant in the first stage of the decision process. Importance of Vehicle Safety as a Purchase Attribute Considerably more data are available from the extensive market research conducted by the automobile manufacturers on vehicle attributes that influence automobile purchasing decisions. In recent years safety has become a more important attribute in new car purchases. Historical data collected by General Motors (GM) indicate that in 1994 consumers ranked safety 6th out of 38 possible reasons for choosing the new vehicle they purchased over their second-choice vehicle. The data indicate a fairly steady increase in importance of safety
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Shopping for Safety: Providing Consumer Automotive Safety Information FIGURE 4-1 Flowchart of two-stage automobile purchase decision process and factors affecting vehicle selection. features from 1987, when they ranked 25th (Figure 4-2).18 In another historical survey (J.D. Power and Associates 1993), prospective car purchasers in 1993 rated “safety in case of accidents” third in importance in selecting a new car, up from fifth 10 years earlier (Figure 4-2). Although it has grown in importance, safety is still not the most important attribute for most consumers purchasing a new car. Price and
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Shopping for Safety: Providing Consumer Automotive Safety Information FIGURE 4-2 Changes in the relative importance of safety as a car purchase decision attribute (General Motors Corporation 1994). (New car buyers were asked to rate the three most important items causing them to purchase the car they did rather than their second choice.) dependability have consistently ranked higher on the average (General Motors Corporation 1994, J.D. Power and Associates 1993). Ford Motor Company's new vehicle buyer study also confirms these results, with safety rated fourth in purchase importance, tied with riding comfort (NHTSA 1994, 74).19 Another recent survey showed that new car purchasers rated safety features higher on the average than purchasers of pickups, sport utility vehicles, and to a lesser extent vans (Consumer Attitude Research 1994).20 One reason that safety may not rank higher in importance is that vehicle safety may be somewhat taken for granted. For example, Ford 's buyers survey found that people were generally satisfied with the safety of their automobiles; only 9 out of 32 product attributes were rated higher than safety (NHTSA 1994, 75). Participants in recent NHTSA
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Shopping for Safety: Providing Consumer Automotive Safety Information focus groups stated it more directly: “Safety is not going to be my prime concern because I know that by federal law there are certain features which must be on all vehicles. I trust those features” (S.W. Morris & Co. 1993, 20). The importance of safety also depends on who is purchasing or using the car. Male participants in the focus groups, for example, noted that while safety was less important than certain other features in cars they drove themselves, it was the most important factor in purchasing a car that will be used by their family (S.W. Morris & Co. 1993, 19). Women tend to rate safety features more highly than men, although the differences are not large.21 Ford's buyers survey suggests that safety is particularly important for high-income consumers (NHTSA 1994, 75), whereas GM's survey suggests that better-educated consumers rate safety more highly (General Motors Corporation 1994). Finally, owners of larger cars, typically older drivers, also rate safety more highly (J.D. Power and Associates 1993; Consumer Attitude Research 1994). These more safety-conscious market segments are likely to be receptive to improved vehicle safety information and could influence others to use such information. Likely Use of Improved Safety Information Although somewhat dated, the results of 40 group interviews in 1985 with car buyers in four U.S. locations22 provide an indication of how consumers might use improved vehicle safety information. Respondents suggested that they would use the information primarily in the second stage of their decision process. Once they had narrowed their choices on the basis of such primary criteria as price, vehicle safety information, particularly crashworthiness data, would be used to eliminate the worst-performing cars in the buyer's decision set (National Analysts 1986, 49).23 In other words, the information would be used as a tie-breaker to help eliminate unsatisfactory alternatives. Better information about the critical relationship between vehicle safety and size and weight could help consumers choose among different types of vehicles (e.g., sport utility vehicles and cars) in the first stage of their decision process and allow them to make trade-offs across product types. Consumers' perception of driving as a low-risk activity may also affect their receptivity to vehicle safety information. Studies of how lay
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Shopping for Safety: Providing Consumer Automotive Safety Information Summary Determining how best to structure and communicate vehicle safety information is a matter for research. Limited data based largely on NHTSA focus groups suggest that some consumers would find a standardized vehicle safety rating and an accompanying explanatory page or brochure the most effective method of presenting comparative vehicle safety information. Summary measures are attractive because they simplify vehicle comparisons that involve multiple attributes and help focus consumer attention on safety as an important decision criterion. The fuel economy and appliance energy efficiency labels offer good models of understandable, useful summary rating measures. Similar to other product ratings, a vehicle safety rating could be displayed on a label on all new cars. A separate safety label is probably desirable because of the potential for information overload, given the amount of information placed on existing new car labels. More detailed information explaining the summary rating and its calculation could be made available in a brochure or handbook to accommodate different levels of consumer interest and information processing capabilities. Vehicle safety information should be introduced at several points in the purchase decision process. A vehicle safety label on all new cars and accompanying explanatory information available at the dealership would provide consumers valuable information near the time of sale. New car purchasers, however, engage in considerable information search and frequently narrow their choices before going to the showroom. Thus, the information should also be made available earlier in the search process. Not everyone will use vehicle safety information even if it is readily accessible. The most cost-effective way to disseminate the information, at least initially, is to target the most receptive audiences—informed, safety-conscious new car buyers. Public service advertising and education programs are likely to be necessary to create awareness of the availability of the safety information and increase consumer comprehension of the information content, thereby increasing the likelihood of its use. RESEARCH NEEDS Surveys of new car buyers indicate that safety has become a more important factor in new car purchase decisions. These data, however, have
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Shopping for Safety: Providing Consumer Automotive Safety Information been gathered primarily by the automobile manufacturers for marketing and advertising purposes. Little systematic information is available on what consumers believe or understand about vehicle safety, or how and when they think about safety in choosing a vehicle. Conducting research to obtain better information on these topics is an important step in the design of vehicle safety information that consumers will perceive as relevant in their search process. Determining how vehicle safety information should be presented and introduced into the consumer search process so that consumers will find the information easy to use and available at critical choice points—another important step in improving consumer vehicle safety information—is also a matter for empirical study. The limited data available suggest that some consumers would like standardized vehicle safety ratings for all passenger vehicles, that the information should be available to inform initial consumer decisions about vehicle class, and that it should be accessible before consumers go to the dealer showroom. These preliminary findings should be confirmed by more systematic research. Experimental studies with groups of typical consumers to field test and refine specific communication materials are essential to developing an effective communication strategy. The research just outlined is a prerequisite for any program to improve vehicle safety information. NHTSA should undertake the necessary studies, which are neither conceptually difficult nor expensive, without delay. NOTES 1. Short- and long-term memory are not thought to be physically distinct entities. Rather, short-term or working memory involves the activated portion of long-term memory as well as immediate processing and storage of information gathered from the environment (Just and Carpenter 1992 in Byrne 1995; Bettman et al. 1991, 54). Long-term memory is a permanent and unlimited memory store (Bettman et al. 1991, 55; Mazis and Staelin 1982, 10). 2. Working memory, it is said, can handle up to seven plus or minus two meaningful units of information (Miller 1956). However, when competing tasks are involved, working memory capacity may be limited to as few as four to five units of information (Simon 1974). 3. Current theories of memory suggest that long-term memory is organized by (a) causal beliefs, that is, mental models or schemes of how things work; (b) concept categories, which are determined by and related to causal be-
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Shopping for Safety: Providing Consumer Automotive Safety Information liefs but are also hierarchically related by level of conceptual detail (e.g., vehicle, car, sedan), with the most often used, or basic, concept categories (e.g., car) being easier to understand; and (c) episodes, that is, chronologically organized information about specific experiences and events. Commonly, long-term memory is divided into semantic memory, which includes generic beliefs and categories (a and b) that are not memories of a specific episode or event and episodic memory (c) (Means and Loftus 1991; Tulving 1972). 4. These beliefs are frequently referred to as “mental models,” that is, the concepts people use to understand and generate inferences typically about risky choices (Bostrom et al. 1994, 789). 5. These strategies are called noncompensatory, because a poor value on an important attribute typically results in elimination of the alternative. This type of strategy is contrasted with a compensatory approach, which requires trading off high values on some attributes with low values on others in arriving at a final score (Bettman et al. 1991, 60). 6. This cost-benefit perspective has been advanced by Hauser et al. (1993), Punj and Staelin (1983), Bettman et al. (1991), and Russo and Dosher (1983) in Bettman et al. (1991, 64), among others. 7. Some of the more common choice heuristics, which are described by Bettman et al. (1991, 58–60), include the satisficing heuristic (eliminate alternatives if any attribute is below a predetermined cutoff level), the lexicographic heuristic (determine the most important attribute and then examine the values of all alternatives on that attribute), the weighted additive rule (consider and weight all attributes to arrive at an overall evaluation), the elimination-by-aspects heuristic (compare alternatives against the most important attribute and a minimum acceptable value), the majority of confirming dimensions heuristic (compare pairs of alternatives), the frequency of good and bad features heuristic (select the alternative with the highest sum of good features or the lowest sum of bad features), the equal weight heuristic (sum the values of all attributes, which are weighted equally, so the alternative with the largest value is chosen), and the habitual heuristic (select what was chosen the last time). 8. For example, consumers using the former strategy who are provided with vehicle crashworthiness ratings might eliminate certain vehicles from consideration if they did not have a certain minimum score. Consumers using the latter strategy might not consider the crashworthiness information at all unless safety were perceived as an important decision attribute. Therefore, automotive safety information must not only be available, it must be perceived as an important attribute. 9. Prospect theory, which was pioneered by Kahneman and Tversky (1979 in Plous 1993, 95), emphasizes the importance of framing a problem to choices and preferences. It also helps explain how people value and interpret differently decision outcomes that are objectively identical by showing that individuals tend to view outcomes relative to some reference point rather
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Shopping for Safety: Providing Consumer Automotive Safety Information than as absolute magnitudes and that negative outcomes are counted more heavily than potential gains (Bettman et al. 1991, 65; Plous 1993, 95–101). 10. Title II of the 1972 Motor Vehicle Information and Cost Savings Act (Public Law 92-513) directed NHTSA to conduct a research program to develop information on the damage susceptibility, crashworthiness, repairability, and insurance costs of automobiles for collection and distribution to consumers (Booz, Allen Applied Research 1976, II-1). 11. The study consisted of two parts: (a) focus groups of about 50 people were convened to discuss what they considered to be important issues concerning automotive safety; the results of these groups provided the basis for (b) a telephone questionnaire of 300 individuals. The respondents were asked to identify the characteristics of a “safe” car (aided question); select which vehicle design features should be mandatory; indicate whether safety information was obtained before car purchase and, if the answer was “yes,” from where; and identify the sources of safety information and rate their reliability. Three-fourths of the telephone respondents were male; one-fourth were female. All had purchased one of six new car models in the last 3 months. 12. Respondents were sent a list of 40 items, one item per card, and asked to organize them in order of importance. They were telephoned a second time to obtain the ranking. 13. Thirty-five percent of older drivers (age 60 and above) rated large size as a very important consideration in buying a new car, compared with 23 percent of young drivers (Ferguson 1992, 3). 14. The first study asked subjects to rate 30 motor vehicle subsystems on a set of risk characteristic scales. Drivers gave brakes a high risk rating, which correlated well with crash data that showed brake failures were responsible for the largest proportion of crashes involving vehicular causal factors (MacGregor and Slovic 1989, 386). However, drivers tended to underestimate the importance of communication systems, such as headlights and turning signals, relative to their role in actual crashes (MacGregor and Slovic 1989, 386). The second study (Slovic et al. 1987) also examined individual perceptions of the importance of mechanical systems, such as brakes, steering systems, and fuel lines, to safe vehicle operation. Subjects were asked to evaluate 40 scenarios involving automotive defects on several risk characteristics (e.g., likelihood of damage, injury). Motor vehicle defects were rated widely in terms of their risk characteristics (Slovic et al. 1987, 368). 15. Twelve group interviews were conducted, four in each of three cities. Each group consisted of about eight consumers representing a particular income class and sex (Booz, Allen Applied Research 1976, D-3). 16. The main purpose of the survey was to examine consumer search patterns. 17. The purpose of the study was to develop a conceptual model of a consumer-salesperson interaction to serve as the basis of a computer system that would help consumers select among car sizes, models, and optional features (Horowitz and Russo 1989, 392). Work on this Expert System for
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Shopping for Safety: Providing Consumer Automotive Safety Information Product Recommendation and Information, which was being developed for General Motors Corporation, has not gone forward. 18. The survey is sent to those who have purchased a vehicle in the past 3 months. It is not limited to those who have purchased a General Motors car. 19. Vehicle durability and reliability, quality, and engine and transmission performance ranked above safety in new vehicle purchases attributes (NHTSA 1994, 74–75). 20. The survey asked respondents to list the two top reasons for purchase among 30 attributes; then, for each attribute, the percentage citing it among the top two reasons was listed. For car purchasers, safety ranked between 4th (for luxury car purchasers) and 10th (for minisubcompact purchasers), with small car purchasers rating safety less high than large car purchasers. Whereas the range for purchasers of light truck vehicles was larger (between 2, for small station wagons, and 18 for mini and small utility vehicles), safety ranked lower, on the average, for purchasers of these types of vehicles (e.g., 13th for standard utility vehicles and 14th and 15th, respectively, for purchasers of small and standard pickups). 21. Slightly more than 14 percent of female respondents versus slightly less than 12 percent of male respondents to the GM survey cited safety features as one of the three most important reasons for purchasing the vehicle they did rather than their second choice (General Motors Corporation 1994). Eleven percent of women versus 9 percent of men rated safety as the third most important feature in selecting a new vehicle (J.D. Power and Associates 1993). 22. Group interviews of eight or nine participants each were conducted during October 1985 in four locations across the United Sates—Portland, Oregon; San Diego, California; Kansas City, Missouri; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (National Analysts 1986, 3–5). 23. This response may in part be due to the current focus of crashworthiness information, which provides crash test results for vehicles of similar size. 24. Sixty-three percent of older drivers (age 60 years and above) considered themselves to be more at risk now than 5 years ago compared with only 44 percent of young drivers (age 21 to 29 years) (Ferguson 1992, 5). 25. This is particularly important in the case of a summary measure that represents a weighted average of different product attributes (e.g., car size and weight, crashworthiness in different crash types), where consumers might make different assessments of the relative importance of these attributes. 26. A federal law took effect in late 1994 at the urging of the domestic automobile makers requiring them to put labels on new cars and trucks sold in the United States that identify the foreign-parts content (Lavin 1994). Some manufacturers are providing the information on the current new car label, or Munroney label as it is called. Others are providing a separate label on the window near the Munroney label. 27. Whether information overload occurs and hinders consumer choices remains an important unresolved question in consumer research. A good
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Shopping for Safety: Providing Consumer Automotive Safety Information summary of the key studies and findings on the information overload question is provided by Magat et al. (1988) and Bettman et al. (1991). 28. A field experiment assessing the impact of different product labels, in this case a hazard warning, on consumers' recall of the information on the labels found that individuals responded to cluttered labels by retaining less of the information, particularly the most important information, on the label (Magat et al. 1988, 230). 29. It may be necessary to display the summary safety information in some other prominent location because of limitations on window space for some vehicles and concerns about visibility in driving test vehicles. 30. A key difficulty was separating the effect of the label from other technological and regulatory changes. For example, technological advances greatly improved the energy efficiency of some major appliances around the time that energy labels were introduced, making it difficult to sort out cause and effect (McMahon 1991, 89). 31. These text boxes were prepared by Beverly Huey, National Research Council staff. 32. Magat and Viscusi (1992), NRC (1989), Richardson et al. (1987), Viscusi and Magat (1987), Hadden (1986), and Morris et al. (1980), among others, are commonly cited. 33. Punj found an inverse relationship between the level of presearch decision making and the amount of external search conducted (measured by the number of dealers consulted and the time spent at these dealers). Consumers who had not made up their minds concerning the manufacturer, brand, or dealer spent a longer time in external search (Punj 1987, 77). 34. This approach is based on protection motivation theory [Rippetoe and Rogers 1987; see also the extended parallel process model proposed by Witte (1992)], a variant of the work on persuasiveness-of-fear appeals. According to the theory, for people to take action to protect themselves, they must first be convinced that they are vulnerable to a threat, that the threat is severe, that there is a clear action for relieving the threat, and that they are capable of taking that action. In the context of automotive safety, the theory implies that consumers must feel that they are at risk of being in a crash, that the crash can be severe, that buying a safer vehicle will help, and that they can buy a safer vehicle. Information on vehicle safety may address the last two (response and self-efficacy) but may not convey that there is a serious, personally relevant threat—the risk of being in a severe crash. An information campaign on the cumulative likelihood of being in different kinds of crashes would be one way of conveying the riskiness of driving and motivating more consumers to attend to safety information. REFERENCES Abbreviations NHTSA National Highway Traffic Safety Administration NRC National Research Council
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