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Road safety behaviour change programmes ‘lacking in rigour’

Road Safety

22 November 2019
Fosdick: practitioners want a professional identity
Fosdick: practitioners want a professional identity

Road safety education programmes need to be built on firmer foundations of evidence, says a new report by the RAC Foundation. It highlights Highways England as one of the organisations leading the way to raise standards. 

Tanya Fosdick, head of research at Agilysis, and principal research associate at Road Safety Analysis, surveyed road safety education practitioners in organisations such as local authorities, road safety partnerships, police forces, driving schools, and fire and rescue services. This was followed up by discussion groups to explore matters in detail.

 “Road safety education is not held in as high a regard as is highways engineering,” concludes Fosdick. “Limited qualifications can lead to a lack of professional identity in a diverse sector.”

Some survey respondents said they didn’t evaluate their interventions. When this was discussed in focus groups participants suggested “that it can feel daunting to have one’s work judged”. “This in turn means that only positive evaluation results are published,” says Fosdick. 

The report highlights three best practice organisations: Kent County Council, Devon County Council, and Highways England. “All three organisations collaborate with academics and experts to embed evidence-led practice into their work,” she says. “Evaluation is key, as is the need for consistent approaches.” 

Highways England has established a ‘Social Research and Behaviour Change Centre of Excellence’. 

“The centre of excellence is building on best practice in social research and behaviour change, both internally and externally, to better understand the behaviour of road users, and is developing tools, guides and training to upskill colleagues and build capability across the organisation,” says Fosdick. 

“It is encouraging a people-centred, evidence-based approach to developing interventions and understanding their impacts, sifting out what works from what does not.

“Experts and academics are commissioned to provide advice and create the support tools, which are then tested with end users.

“Whilst it is early days for Highways England, this looks like being an approach that could be emulated more widely across the sector, through a central organisation performing a role similar to that of the Social Research and Behaviour Change Centre of Excellence team.”

The two councils praised, Kent and Devon, have both used Fiona Fylan’s 2017 report, Using  behaviour change techniques: guidance for the road safety community, published by the RAC Foundation, to design education programmes. Devon worked with Plymouth University to review an intervention and determine its effectiveness. 

Fosdick suggests two ways to raise the standard of road safety behaviour change programmes. 

“One route is an approach where, through national guidance and leadership, practitioners adopt standard behaviour change models in the design of road safety interventions. 

“There would be clearer roles, through the acknowledgement that designers and deliverers do not necessarily have to be the same people. 

“There would be calls to stop designing new interventions and to instead take stock of what is currently being delivered, concentrating on promoting the proven and effective schemes.”

The other approach would be to create licensed products. 

“Courses delivered to drivers who have committed a road traffic offence, such as speed awareness courses, have syllabuses and materials developed with academics, and are delivered by approved trainers. 

“This approach could be adopted for other road safety educational interventions, whereby academics and practitioners work together on their development.”

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