What works in changing road user behavior?
Date: Thursday, 28. June 2007
This document is a summary of an edited version of the original 273-page report,
entitled The Roles of Legislation, Education, and Reinforcement in Changing
Road User Behavior, (SRO-95-102; ISBN 0-7778-4354-0), which was released
in October 1995.
The 25-page edited version, In Search of Safer Roads: What Works in Changing
Road User Behaviour and the complete technical version are available
from the Safety Research Office of the Safety Policy Branch of the Ontario
Government in Canada.
An updated document, Changing road user behaviour: what works,
what doesn't (PDE Publications, 1998)>
The report's authors are:
Lawrence P. Lonero (Northport Associates)
Kathryn Clinton (Northport Associates)
Gerald J.S. Wilde (Queen's University)
Kent Roach (University of Toronto)
A. James McKnight (National Public Services Research Institute)
Heather MacLean (University of Toronto)
Steven J. Guastello (Marquette University)
Robert W. Lamble (Ministry of Transportation, Ontario)
Identifying what behaviors to change
- Behavior Change Models
Applying theory to road safety
- Changing Road User Behavior
- Health promotion: A model for road safety?
- Management of road safety
This report reviews published research (to December 1994) on behavior models
that have been used to attempt to explain road user behavior, and it summarizes
the results of efforts to change that behavior using four broad classes of
tools--LEGISLATION, ENFORCEMENT, REINFORCEMENT, and EDUCATION.
It also looks at Health Promotion as a model for road safety and suggests
four ways to link health and safety. "It is important to recognize the different
ways to measure the effectiveness of health and safety programs, especially
behavioural ones," states the report. "It is possible to change behavior without
changing losses, or to change losses per unit of exposure without changing
per capita losses."
In managing road safety, studies of the four classes of tools listed above
suggest that the most promising possibilities lie "in the terrain between them
where they support each other in their synergistic efforts."
In Ontario, traffic crashes kill 1,000 people each year and injure more than
90,000. They are a serious health and social problem and, next to cancer, the
leading cause of death for people under age 45.
Public and private efforts have managed to stabilize or decrease crash rates
in the province but, because of the growing number of vehicle drivers and other
road users, the absolute number of dead and injured fluctuates with still unacceptable
The Ontario Road Safety Plan is a new strategy intended to coordinate efforts
to identify safety problems, to find and implement solutions, and to feed back
evaluations of initiatives for future efforts to build on. A review of the
literature on road safety was part of that strategy. This document is a summary
of that review.
Past road safety efforts addressed the environment of road safety?focusing
on engineering safer cars and highways. In recent years, the emphasis has shifted
towards encouraging safer road user behavior. An in-depth study of motor vehicle
crashes in the state of Indiana found that driver action, or failure to act,
in the seconds before the crash was responsible for about 77% to 95% of collisions.
Vehicle condition was responsible for about 4% to 13%, and the physical environment
(roads, signs, etc.) was responsible for between 14% and 35%.
Various sources tend to summarize this breakdown of causes as follows:
- 85% are attributed to road user error
- 10% are attributed to imperfect roadway design or other environmental factors
- 5% are attributed to vehicle defects.
Clearly, the way people drive, cycle, or walk on the road is the most common
source of road injuries and fatalities. The greatest potential for making our
roads safer lies in influencing people to develop better perceptual, attitudinal,
and psychomotor skills for these activities.
Studies have indicated that 35% of road users involved in crashes each year
have had previous infractions or crashes. By designing programs for these "problem" drivers,
we hope to reduce their chances of being in another collision. Finding the
other 65% (about 250,000 people) who will be involved in traffic crashes, from
among the 6.75 million drivers on Ontario roads, is more difficult.
But we know in which groups they are most likely to be found. New drivers,
truck drivers, older road users, impaired drivers, bicyclists and motorcyclists
have a disproportionate involvement in crashes. This is reflected in the types
of programs and studies that dominate road safety research.
In recent years there have been many initiatives taken in Ontario to change
road user behavior, but this work has involved a number of different approaches.
Any useful information derived from them is available only piecemeal.
The document summarized here brings together literature on influencing road
user behavior gathered from Ontario and around the world. The emphasis is on
what initiatives have worked elsewhere and can provide direction for others
working in the road safety field.
IDENTIFYING WHAT BEHAVIORS TO
Many strong influences have played a part in establishing the current behavior
of road users. These influences all have good and compelling reasons for existing,
so it is not easy to initiate change. In order to change behavior in the desired
way, a number of variables must be addressed simultaneously. And since there's
little empirical information on what specific behaviors cause road crashes,
we still have to grapple with this issue.
This review focuses on preventing the errors of normal road users and deterring
potentially bad drivers from developing behaviors likely to cause collisions.
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2. Behavior Change Models
An "intricate and interdependent set of congenital, experiential and environmental
influences" determines behavior, and only a limited number of these can be
practically modified. (Figure 1 shows these influences.)
There is a diverse body of literature offering theories and proposing models
that could help us understand behavioral change. The practical purpose of a
theory or model is to provide a set of assumptions that leads us to more effective
solutions. The alternative is common sense, but in road safety, common sense
tradition has been found wanting.
While a theory or model may not be ultimately correct, it nevertheless can
make a contribution to understanding, and the measure of a theory or model's
value is the extent to which it does this. Our efforts to change behavior very
much depend on which theories and models we choose, since they often dictate
what behavior is to be observed during evaluation.
COGNITIVE MODELS use abstract ideas that supposedly operate inside people
to control their behavior. These ideas include beliefs, attitudes, emotions,
intentions and expectations.
Click to enlarge
BEHAVIORAL MODELS focus on observable behavior and on the two kinds of events
that influence it: environmental events and consequences. The behavior analyst
looks at all aspects of a behavior and the factors that encourage or discourage
it. The positive consequences of rewards and incentives are preferred to negative
ones (punishers), since the latter may reduce negative behaviors but without
influencing desirable behaviors.
Between COGNITIVE and BEHAVIORAL models are the RISK, UTILITY, DECISION and
GAME models. These focus on observable behavior and external influences, but
they also address theoretical internal functions such as subjective risk and
expected utility. These are not, strictly speaking, behavior change models
that deal with learned, lasting changes, but they may give us some insight
into the effects of choices that people make. They are discussed later in this
SOCIAL MARKETING THEORY focuses on mass behavior rather than individual behavior
and uses advertising and other media to try to sell socially desirable ideas
and practices to a wide audience.
APPLYING THEORY TO ROAD SAFETY
It is difficult to compare the effectiveness of road safety programs because
they have rarely been designed or evaluated according to behavior change models.
Consideration of explicit models when designing programs to affect road user
behavior is worthwhile. At the very least, they provide a check list of points
to be considered, even though not every model is equally useful for every objective
and not every difference between models is necessarily important.
This summary of a review of road safety literature includes work done in developing
and using some models. Also included is a look at the health promotion field
and what useful lessons road safety research can learn from it.
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3. Changing Road User Behavior
The review of literature describing past efforts to change road user behavior
focused on four practical approaches: Legislation, Enforcement, Reinforcement
and Education. One of the main conclusions of the review is that each of these
approaches works better when used in conjunction with one or more of the others.
Consequently, some studies mentioned in one section will be relevant to other
The most basic mechanism for attempting to influence road user behavior is
legislation (such as the Highway Traffic Act), and it works in two ways: its
declarative effect (setting socially acceptable standards), and its deterrent
effect (imposing sanctions on violators).
Both influences are dependent on other actions. The declarative effect is
dependent on education and communication. Deterrence is dependent on enforcement.
Legislation is always at war with public wariness about paternalistic measures
that aim at protecting people from themselves. However, in recent years, this
conflict has produced some excellent opportunities for researchers to study
the effects of legislation or lack of it.
While a new law has significant impact, due mainly to the publicity it gets,
legal theorists and researchers generally agree that legislation by itself
has limited influence. The initial effect declines fairly rapidly and legislation
needs more support over the long term if it is to play a dynamic, effective
role in permanently changing road user behavior.
That support comes from the other three approaches mentioned above. Effective
enforcement helps create a credible deterrent and encourages people to develop
the habit of compliance. Reinforcements (for example, prompts, feedbacks and
incentives) can increase people's desire to develop good driving habits. Education
helps people develop knowledge, skills and changes in attitude, and feeds the
development of internal and informal social controls.
Seat belt legislation
Countries around the world have introduced legislation to enforce seat belt
use during the past 20 years. Evaluations of the effect of this legislation
consider two criteria -- usage rates and casualties. Generally speaking, legislation
substantially increases seat belt use initially, but the effect falls off over
time. However, even after time, the usage rate remains higher than before legislation.
Use rates are now considerably higher internationally and in Canada, too, reaching
over 90% in many jurisdictions as public agencies have learned to bolster the
effects of their laws with coordinated education and enforcement efforts.
The effect of legislation on casualty rates is less clear. Legislation produced
reductions in fatalities in most places, but many reductions were not statistically
significant. Comparisons made in 1982 suggest there has not been much change
since seat belt laws were introduced in the 1970s, but it's possible that effects
have increased over the years. This hypothesis is based on the fact that the
earliest adopters of seat belts are at the lowest risk of crashing; drivers
most resistant are the most likely to crash. Benefits may snowball as belt
use increases amongst higher-risk drivers. The same phenomenon is observed
in the results of legislation governing driving while impaired.
Some studies are showing fewer non-fatal injuries in the wake of legislation.
However, maximum effects are created when legislation is accompanied by enforcement.
Seat belt legislation in North Carolina was introduced with a grace period
before enforcement. Reinfurt et al (1990) tracked injuries and fatalities
during the various phases of implementation. Belt use went from 25% to 45%
at first, then to 78% once enforcement began. It subsequently decreased to
64%. Injuries went down 5.4% during the grace period and 15% during enforcement.
Fatalities stayed the same at first but went down 12% after enforcement.
In Ontario, belt use went from 17% to 77% following enforcement (in January
1976). Then it fell to 48%, rising again to 65% for drivers and 50% for passengers
by 1978 following increased enforcement efforts. Ontario occupant fatality
and injury rates (per 100 km traveled) for 1976 to 1981 were significantly
below the trend expected for the rates in 1960 to 1975. The belt use rate for
drivers was 91% in October 1994.
There are few published evaluations of child restraint laws. Those that exist
show that the effects have not been dramatic, but that it is possible to reduce
casualties measurably if use rates can be reduced sufficiently.
A study of five U.S. states found that legislation doubled the average use
rate, but the impact varied widely among the states. Use rates would probably
need to be in the 60% - 90% range to protect the majority of high risk individuals.
Correct use of child restraints remains a problem. Most children are not properly
fitted and many child seats not properly installed.
Rapid turnover amongst child restraint users means that more coordinated support
and attention will be needed to maintain high use rates rather than other types
of "paternalistic" legislation.
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Of particular interest is that some U.S. states had introduced helmet laws
and then repealed them in the face of public complaints about loss of freedom
and mobility. This allowed a study design that permitted evaluation before
legislation, after legislation, and after repeal of the legislation.
The U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) reviewed 46 studies on helmet laws
in the U.S. in 1991. The review concluded that helmet use reduces serious and
fatal injuries by from 28% to 73%. The review did not support rider complaints
that helmets restrict hearing and vision and cause neck injuries in crashes.
It was estimated that because of the U.S. helmet law repeals, the United States
had lost about $250 million in direct and indirect costs resulting from death
and disability of the mostly young victims.
In 1987, a legislative change in the U.S. allowed states to raise the speed
limits on rural interstate freeway sections. Some chose not to; others chose
to change the limits on some roads and not others.
Streff and Schultz (1990) studied the effect of speed limit changes in Michigan,
finding that there were substantial increases in fatalities and in serious
and moderate injuries, but no increase in the number of vehicles involved in
crashes. The study concluded that the crashes had become more sever but not
Other studies covering many more states showed similar results. One study
indicated a "spill-over" effect -- a 5% rise in fatalities on rural non-interstate
roads where speed limits had not increased. Speeding and fatal collisions also
went up in states that had not raised their limits, although only by about
half as much. The authors of the study attributed this to a general change
in attitudes towards speed limits about the time that limits were increased.
They also concluded that those states that had increased their limits may have
diverted some speeders to travel on those roads.
The war against impaired driving produced a very large body of literature.
This literature has created a fertile ground for studying attempts to change
driving behavior through legislation.
In the U.S. alone there were about 500 legislative changes between 1980 and
1985. The most important legislative development in this field has been the
introduction of per se laws that base conviction on the alcohol level in the
driver's blood rather than on proof of dangerous driving. Since the late 1960s,
such laws have been introduced in Canada, Britain and most U.S. states.
Moskowitz (1989) has shown that DWI legislation, coupled with enforcement
programs, has an effect, at least in the short term. Increased penalties, additional
proceedings and per se laws ensure fewer fatal crashes, an effect lasting between
a few months and a couple of years.
One possible reason why effects of legislation don't last, say researchers,
is the low probability of apprehension; one study suggests that there is one
arrest per 200 impaired trips. Greater enforcement, research suggests, puts
a strain on the court system without and real reduction in traffic crashes.
In the state of New South Wales, in Australia, a program that involved legislative
changes, heavy random breath testing and massive publicity, managed to remain
effective over a number of years.
There's a broad range of influences on drinking and driving behavior, researchers
say. A durable deterrence exists (Snortum, 1988, p226) but "it can only be
found by looking in the right places", they say. Some of these "right places" are
licensing actions (such as suspension) and intensive law enforcement.
DWI rates may be masked by other societal trends such as overall increased
drinking. There is no way of knowing if DWI rates would be higher without existing
Another researcher concluded that the only single legislative action responsible
for observed declines in DWI was raising the drinking age. Some studies seem
to suggest that a higher minimum drinking age, reduced consumption and changes
in consumption location do decrease alcohol-related crashes, and that these
effects may persist beyond the legal drinking age.
There is a lot of evidence to suggest that losing one's driving license is
more effective than fines or jail sentences. Most suspended drivers continue
to drive, but apparently much more carefully, and they tend to acquire greater
skills and better habits that continue after suspension is ended. Jail sentences
can even be counterproductive because offenders lose the chance to improve
their driving skills through practice.
Other factors affect DWI. For example:
- Sale of alcohol by the glass produces an increase in alcohol-related collisions.
- Tax increases on alcohol reduced fatal collisions in 25 of 38 states evaluated.
- Decreases and subsequent increases in the minimum drinking age showed more
collisions where alcohol was readily available.
However, when alcohol sales were permitted in Toronto's major league ball
park, a study showed that drinking went up but collisions did not, compared
with the situation before beer sales were permitted.
The effectiveness of legislation depends on how its implementation is managed
in conjunction with other initiatives such as enforcement and education. For
longer-term effects we have to set new social norms around DWI with legislation
serving as a focus for education, publicity and group activism.
The practical difficulty for the program planner is understanding the balance
between leading and following the existing, informal social norms.
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The results of this survey of legislative attempts to influence road user
behavior suggest the following guidelines in introducing new legislation:
- Communicate clearly to the public and the media about the reasons for,
and the benefits expected from the legislation. Do not assume that people
understand the reason(s) for it.
- Continue to improve the influence and deterrence of legislation by explicit
planning, implementation and evaluation. Complacency leads to a deterioration
- Improve deterrent effects with supporting initiatives in enforcement and
publicity developed after analysis of the target populations and their current
- Support individual values and controls related to health issues and the
social costs of careless or irresponsible road use behaviors.
- Look beyond short-term effectiveness of new legislation with careful deliberate
interventions designed to maintain positive behaviors and an optimal mix
of effective supporting initiatives.
- Help develop social norms favoring safe road use that will build on people's
Enforcement upholds society's expectations and standards. It imposes sanctions
when laws are violated and it is the threat of these sanctions that persuades
most road users to comply. It discourages people from repeating behavior that
has already earned them a sanction.
Road users may view sanctions in a variety of ways: as a cost of doing business,
as a moral issue, as an inefficient and discriminatory system, or even as a
revenue generator for government.
Rothengatter (1982) reviewed the literature on the short-term effects of enforcement
on driver behavior. He identified three kinds of effects:
- On-view effects, when a driver can see a police unit, can have a substantial
impact on elements such as speed, lane choice, overtaking and obeying traffic
lights, but the effect operates over narrow ranges of time and distance;
- Memory effect, when a driver travels the same stretch of roadway, has been
measured to last as long as two weeks;
- General "halo" effect, when enforcement influences behavior over a wide
Booth (1982) suggests targeting high-risk locations, times and types of violators
to create an image of police omnipresence. He hypothesized that drivers' increased
awareness of traffic police would make them more careful and would result in
fewer traffic violations.
Clearly, behavior often changes in the presence of enforcement, particularly
if the perceived probability of non visible enforcement is high enough. Consequently,
actual probability is a key factor in the strategy of enforcement authorities,
who can be thought of as the driver's opponent in a formal "game." Changes
in the behavior of one player influence the behavior of the opponent.
Bjornskau and Elvik (1992) offered the idea that drivers' perceptions of the
chances of being ticketed are based on the level of enforcement and the level
of enforcement set by authorities depends on the speed level of drivers. If
more drivers speed, then more enforcement is applied and some drivers slow
down. If speeding is greatly reduced, enforcement would be reduced, and this
would cause speeding to increase again. A highly unstable situation results.
The conclusion is drawn that enforcement of road user legislation will be
half-hearted because if too much enforcement is set up, it will upset the balance
and lead to fewer violations. Then enforcement will have to be reduced. The
game model makes it clear that fully rational, predictable behavior can lead
to less-than-optimal safety results.
The authors of this report (Lonero et al) also conclude that violations and
road crashes can be permanently decreased if enforcement is not reduced once
it is successful. The most obvious way to do that, they argue, is by automatic
surveillance (see next section). For manual enforcement, however, an effective
strategy would be to allocate enforcement randomly and to keep it at a level
just above the "equilibrium strategy," found by evaluation of the effects of
enforcement over time.
The Selective Traffic Enforcement Program (STEP), extensively developed in
Canada, is a special enforcement approach that recognizes the value of specific
targets, planning, community support, training for enforcement officers and
Step programs are inherently temporary, but this may not be a critical defect.
Programs can be repeated periodically and used strategically to boost compliance.
They can work at community and provincial levels.
The Canadian National Occupant Restraint Program is a national STEP, targeted
to a 95% seat belt use rate across the country by 1995. It is estimated that
five million enforcement contacts are needed each year to achieve this level.
This is in line with results achieved in an Australian DWI program in New South
Effects of different types of enforcement
Police "job actions" (reduced work or strikes) in Finland and the U.S. have
provided opportunities for road safety researchers to study the effect of reduced
enforcement. They have found that diminished police presence affects speed
and speed variance but has little short-term effect on the number of collisions.
Hauer et al (1982) studied the direct local effects of visible enforcement
on speeding in four experiments in Metropolitan Toronto. When enforcement was
visible, average speeds were sharply reduced (by about 15 km per hour) at the
sites. There was a "downstream distance halo effect" that decayed by half every
900 meters. There was also an "upstream halo effect" attributed to CB radio
warnings, light flashing and prior experience at the site. A "time halo" was
noted, with one day of enforcement having a noticeable effect for about three
days, and longer enforcement creating a longer halo.
Interestingly, drivers who passed the site repeatedly didn't further decrease
their speed, but their speeds were affected for longer periods of time. Habitually
slow and fast drivers slowed down more than average.
A number of studies have looked at the effects of combining enforcement with
feedback signs. One study on two major commuter routes into Dartmouth, Nova
Scotia, found that feedback signs (for example, percentage of drivers not speeding
last week, or "Best Record" percentage) substantially decreased the number
of drivers who drove at more than 10 km over the limit.
Studies found that the effect of feedback signs was further increased when
police stopped speeders and gave them informational materials and warning tickets,
and when police stopped drivers who were traveling close to the limit, thanked
them, and gave them token rewards. In the latter case, the number of drivers
traveling more than 10 kph over the speed limit was reduced by 48% and those
going more than 20 kph over the limit by 64%.
Studies of the effect of boosting enforcement -- for example, by doubling
patrol density -- also showed significant effects.
However, some selective enforcement programs do not appear to be effective.
A study of a series of 17 apparently independent selective enforcement programs
in North Carolina targeted various violations. There was a lack of detectable
effect, producing the conclusion that such programs must be planned with evaluation
The authors of this study suggest that it's better to fund a smaller number
of more intense programs than a larger number of smaller programs. A series
of related enforcement-centered programs in eastern Canada looked at the effects
of various combinations of prompting, enforcement, education and publicity
on pedestrian behavior and drivers' behavior towards pedestrians. Almost all
studies showed significant increases in pedestrian signaling and driver yielding,
even when there were already fairly high baseline levels.
Although it wasn't possible to separate the contributions of different program
components, it was clear that the comprehensive approach was effective in changing
behavior. And at a cost of about $40,000 per city, it was not expensive.
Automatic policing systems such as photo radar cameras seem to be effective
in reducing both speeds and collisions.
Lamm and Kloeckner (1984) did a long-term follow-up on the effects of a photo
radar on a section of German autobahn. A 100 kph speed limit was set on a dangerous
seven-kilometer downgrade. Fatal collisions were reduced from about seven per
year to about one. These effects were maintained over a 10-year period on this
stretch of road. Associated effects such as drivers changing to other roads
were not measured.
Rothengatter (1991) reviewed the use of automatic policing systems for increasing
compliance with traffic law. He proposed that their use be extended, their
current deficiencies corrected, and that "smart card" use be developed to allow
violations to be read and taxed at license time.
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Targeting specific behaviors
Seat belt enforcement:
There have been many evaluations, especially in the U.S., where efforts are
being made to raise use rates in states that have mandatory use laws. The
enforcement programs began with high baselines created by the introduction
of legislation. Consequently, they are focused on the more resistant drivers.
Clearly, enforcement can raise belt use rates substantially, especially when
implemented with publicity and other measures.
In the U.S., there is approximately one arrest for every 5,000 miles of drunk
driving. This rate of enforcement will discourage compliance because of the
low risk of sanctions.
Studies indicate that it requires a balanced program of enforcement with check
points, publicity and preventive behavioral measures (such as designated driver
programs) to increase drivers' perception of the risks attached to DWI.
Many legislative and enforcement programs targeting DWI had strong initial
effects that have dissipated over time. In British Columbia, collision statistics
indicate that the greatest effects come with the greatest levels of public
awareness. These take time to develop and therefore lag behind the peak in
Random Breath Testing (RBT) can have a substantial effect on DWI. When South
Australia introduced RBT, the publicity it generated produced a greater effect
before it was implemented than after, because it was accompanied by a low level
of enforcement. However, the effects in reduced DWI did not last, and there
was a marked increase in crashes on back roads as drivers tried to avoid police
checkpoints on the main highways.
Two other Australian states that introduced RBT with greater enforcement and
publicity showed a marked drop in collisions and fatalities. They found that
heavy drinkers and those with DWI convictions changed their behavior more than
others. This seems to contradict many other findings in driver deterrence.
One study found that the DWI programs provided many drivers with an excuse
to drink less. A study in one state showed that these effects persisted over
a long period.
A U.S. study found a need for more standardized and sophisticated sobriety
tests that would increase sensitivity to alcohol impairment. These are now
Shinar and McKnight (1985) carried out an extensive review of enforcement
and related public information that targeted speeding and DWI. They reached
the following conclusions.
- There can be no perceived risk of enforcement without actual risk.
- Enforcement units must be highly visible to be effective.
- Visible enforcement must appear to be a real threat.
- Uncertainty can extend the range over which drives perceive a real threat.
- Enforcement efforts must be publicized.
Other studies have supported these conclusions. Novel aspects of enforcement,
such as videotaping suspects, can generate publicity automatically. But publicity
about enforcement could be counterproductive if it reduced drivers' perceptions
of being caught. Voas (1982) showed that drivers overestimated the risk of
arrest for DWI and may overestimate the risk of other enforcement threats as
Research has produced the following guidelines in introducing enforcement
measures to modify road user behavior:
- Provide resources and coordination to maximize short-term and short-range
effects of enforcement and enhance halo effects.
- Create sanctions with real bite, and not just the "cost of doing business," by
keeping up to date with public perceptions of probable apprehension.
- Understand the enforcement "game" and break the pattern, looking to STEPS
as a possible tool.
- Improve behavior analysis in police crash investigation.
Reinforcement is used here as an umbrella term to include incentives, rewards
and other aspects of behavior analysis techniques such as prompts and feedbacks.
Reinforcement focuses mainly on encouraging desirable behaviors rather than
discouraging undesirable behaviors.
Reinforcement focuses on specific behaviors and the external factors that
influence them. In this approach the practitioner must be very clear and specific
about the actual and the hoped-for behaviors. Rather than focusing only on
what drivers do to cause a collision, we can also explore what they failed
to do that would have avoided it. For example, slow driving can be encouraged
as opposed to discouraging fast driving, or the use of designated drivers can
be promoted rather than the idea that everyone should drink less or not drink
Wilde (1988) has developed a Risk Homeostasis Theory (RHT), which warns that
drivers may negate some improvements in their road user behavior by compensating
in other ways. For example, less DWI or speeding on main roads is of little
benefit if it is offset by more collisions on minor roads.
The principal interest in RHT is as a framework for understanding how reinforcements
affect road user behavior, especially incentives.
Reinforcement through incentives and
The first systematic evaluation of incentives in road safety was carried out
in California (Harano and Hubert, 1974). In an innovative and large-scale driver
improvement experiment, drivers who had caused crashes or committed violations
in the previous year were informed that their licenses would be extended free
for 12 months if they maintained a clean record in the forthcoming year. This
carried with it a deferral of the written driver's examination, usually required
for license renewal. A control sample of drivers was set up.
Significantly fewer drivers in the incentive group had collisions in the first
follow-up year. The effect was strongest among the younger drivers and those
whose license renewal was to come up within one year after receipt of the letter.
In another experiment, a group of drivers was given the free license extension
without warning, as a simple reward for a one-year clean record. These drivers
performed worse than controls in the subsequent period.
These complex findings offer a cautionary note on the use of potentially powerful
behavioral techniques that can clearly help but may also harm or be ineffective,
depending on details of program design. Evaluation using appropriate experimental
and control groups is especially critical.
A large number of evaluation studies have been done on incentive programs
for seat belt use. In general, these studies show substantial increases in
seat belt use when a positive reward is attached to their use. Follow-up studies
showed that, although peak use levels slipped, belt use had become habitual
for some, and use rates remained above the original baseline.
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Effects of different reward types
In a review of seat belt use in programs in 28 corporations, using various
combinations of the above rewards, Geller et al (1987) noted that they were
all effective well beyond the end of the program. But surprisingly, the strongest
and longest lasting effect came from the no-reward program, which included
a participative education component. Other studies also showed that no-reward
programs had an effect that lasted longer after the program had ended. Researchers
have suggested that people better internalize the motives for their actions
when the external inducement is small but effective.
The variety of intervention tools that have been used to increase seat belt
use and decrease DWI was reviewed by Geller (1990). These were: vehicle reminder
systems such as buzzers and chimes, buckle-up reminder stickers and flashcard
cues, end-of-flight reminders to use a seat belt, education and information
programs, and television and movie depiction of seat belt use.
Tools used to suppress DWI behavior include feedback such as monitoring blood
alcohol levels, modifying the drinking environment (for example "happy hour"),
and server education. These seem weak in comparison to those used for motivating
greater seat belt use. Geller points out that behavior analysis is better at
encouraging desirable behaviors than discouraging undesirable ones.
A number of studies show that programs targeting seat belt and restraint use
amongst school-age children produced effects that were substantial and persistent.
Lehman and Geller (1990a, 1990b) compared a number of programs in effect in
Virginia around the time that state introduced its seat belt law. Following
a school skit on belt use, both audience and parents increased their use. The
addition of extrinsic rewards had no additional effect.
Other factors may be more important than the effects of incentives. Geller
and his colleagues systematically replicated studies with variations, combinations
and comparisons of incentives and other behavior-analysis techniques. This
type of programmatic research is rare in the road user research field, but
it seems the only way that scientific precision and control can be brought
to bear on these problems. One-shot initiatives, however well conceived and
effective, will not advance practical knowledge in road user research because
it won't be clear why the initiatives work.
Commitment , prompts, cues and feedback
Another Geller approach that has been quite effective is the "buckle up promise
card, " especially when used in conjunction with participative education. Variations
of this type of approach also show positive results. For example: posting a
pledge to use seat belts in the car in a position where it's readable in the
rearview mirror; "Flash for Life" prompt cards for use on the roadway; airline
crews reminding disembarking passengers to buckle up.
A test of Flash for Life cards showed 82% of motorists looked at the cards
and about one fifth of them (22%) buckled up.
Some studies have shown that a human prompter increased the effectiveness
of a seat belt reminder sign in a parking lot exit, and that a combination
of signs and messages could reduce illegal parking in handicapped spaces by
However, feedback doesn't work in every situation. Russ et al (1989) reviewed
a number of studies that suggest that giving drivers feedback on their blood
alcohol level may be counterproductive. A possible reason is that this feedback
measures drinking performance rather than driver performance.
These kinds of evaluations remind us that powerful behavioral techniques don't
automatically work. As with other approaches, they need to be carefully designed,
evaluated and refined.
This survey of reinforcement initiatives for influencing road user behavior
suggests the following guidelines for future work in this field:
- Use behavior-analysis techniques in operational programs to identify target
behaviors and influence them.
- Develop practical incentives and feedback programs with appropriate evaluations
to maintain their effectiveness.
- Encourage road users to develop internal controls, such as a wellness approach
to their entire lifestyle and social responsibility.
Evaluating road safety education
Much faith has been placed in making road user behavior safer through education.
For road safety purposes, education includes the passing on of skills and knowledge,
and activities aimed at informing or persuading. The most traditional approach,
which was to place information in front of a passive audience, has proven to
In the mid 1980s the Road Transport Research Program of the Organization for
Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) assessed the effectiveness of road
safety education programs (OECD, 1986). It concluded that programs must be
explicit about educational objectives, and that these should include intermediate
measures as well as measures aimed at reducing collision losses.
What a program is trying to teach must relate directly to those tasks a road
user needs to learn. However, that presents a problem because there is a lack
of empirical knowledge about what skills a road user should have. Program objectives,
the report said, must also take into account the skills and motives road users
In addition, the OECD report also addressed the many other variables that
have to be considered: the content of programs, where they're taught, how much
is taught, how often, and cultural differences.
The following summary of road safety education programs views them for a number
of different perspectives, for example, how they are delivered, and what skills
or behaviors are being targeted.
Safety education for younger children targets use of bicycles, helmets and
seat belts, and skills such as road crossing. Teens are targeted for driver
education and responsible use of alcohol.
Systematic training in road safety is rare in schools and few of the school-based
safety programs have been rigorously evaluated.
Typically, police officers lecture using audio-visual and print aids. Researchers
agree that classroom instruction is inferior to most other methods. At best,
knowledge may be improved, but that change does not produce safer behavior.
A U.S. study pointed out that there is a lack of systematic analysis of the
skills pedestrians need and a lack of understanding about how children view
the traffic environment.
Simulation games that relate well to real-life traffic situations work well,
particularly for younger children. However, this research has not definitively
determined that the children could transfer this learning to the real traffic
environment. The realistic simulation approach seems to be extremely effective
with children five to six years old.
A number of studies have been done on programs that use play and simulation
techniques to teach children an adult concept of speed, safe pedestrian habits
and how to use crosswalks. All showed positive, lasting effects.
School-based helmet promotion programs in Australia and New Zealand were successful
in significantly increasing helmet wearing amongst children. The programs incorporated
road safety into the daily curriculum for two weeks. This was complemented
with a bicycle inspection, discount vouchers for helmet purchase and spot prizes
for helmet use. The results showed an interesting gender difference. About
twice as many girls as boys used helmets. After several months the rate of
use increased further. This may have been due to changes in the social acceptability
Parents targeted: Traditionally, education programs about seat belt use and
child restraint have targeted parents. Bowman et al (1987) developed a pre-school
program aimed at children. It taught children to be conscious of wearing their
restraints and to insist on wearing them while traveling in the car. It was
successful in raising use rates from a baseline of 61% to 74%.
High participation programs aimed at raising belt use rates in slightly older
children were also successful. The conclusion: the potential for these kinds
of programs is significant and under-utilized.
Evaluation of a nationwide cycling course in England found that those who
passed crashed significantly less than those who failed. However, it also found
that crash rates for those who passed the course and those who did not take
it were the same (Wilde, 1995). Apparently, children who took the course were
given greater freedom to ride by parents, thereby increasing exposure to risk.
Printed materials were the most widely-used instruction aids, but evaluations
of these found them to be ineffective and there is no support for the use of
printed materials in isolation from other interventions.
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Public education and information
Leiss (1990) suggests that the rapidly developing field of risk communication,
the specialty of informing people about health and environmental risks, might
offer some inspiration to road safety educators. Risk communication exchanges
information between disparate groups-experts who have objective data about
technical risk, and the media and the general public who experience varying
degrees of subjective risk but lack facts. In the middle is government, trying
to facilitate communication.
Wilde (1991) produced an overview of the impact of mass media on health and
safety behaviors. He started with the realization that changes in knowledge
and attitude don't necessarily lead to changes in behavior, and he concluded
that, while the media influence what issues people think about, their behavior
is more influenced by appropriate facts. In other words the media should be
more informative. Wilde also concluded that the more broadly the media inform
people on an issue the more likely they will make sensible decisions.
Experiments with how newspapers handle collision stories have supported Wilde's
Training and education may not be able to produce safer road users on their
own because training and education have difficulty changing attitudes and behavior,
but social marketing concepts may offer a solution. A social marketing concept
hypothesized by Dussault (1993) offers a model that integrates research Analysis,
safety Products, Promotion, Legislation and Enforcement (APPLE). It stresses
participation and involvement, with two-way communication between the target
population and the intervention agent.
One study to test this approach found that objective information on what drivers
think about existing and future road safety measures should be made available
to safety management on an ongoing basis.
Methods: Visual methods such as films and slides were found
to have little impact on behavior. But videos giving children feedback on their
own behavior had some positive effect. Preusser and Lund (1988) showed that
a carefully targeted and intensively presented video feedback program had positive
effects on child pedestrians. Carefully designed educational materials, delivered
through community channels, with enforcement as a prompt and a disincentive
for non-compliance, appear to produce a moderately effective program similar
to a STEP.
Rothe and Cooper (1988) evaluated two public education campaigns on seat belt
use carried out in British Columbia in 1983 and 1987. The first program aimed
at increasing seat belt use from 50% to 80%. Community organizations and institutions
were targeted, using a strategy of civic pride and a package of some 40 projects.
Education, persuasion and enforcement efforts ranged from group presentations
to a television campaign, distribution of printed materials, a pilot taxicab
project and a traffic safety newsletter. The result was a 12% increase in seat
belt use by all occupants and a 13% increase in use by drivers. Those with
the lowest use rate increased the most.
The second campaign in 1987 used media and promotion rather than community
organizations and focused on the risks attached to non-use of belts. Starting
at a baseline rate of 78%, the study found significant increases in 12 of 13
jurisdictions. In nine jurisdictions the increase was significant. There was
evidence to indicate that the increase was related to the level of police charges.
The conclusion is that large scale promotion campaigns should carefully consider
costs and benefits.
Programs in Holland and Germany have demonstrated that parents can be effective
as trainers of young children, especially if they are trained for the role,
but in the Dutch study, children trained by teaching assistants did slightly
better than those trained by parents. The Dutch program was aimed at teaching
pedestrian crossing skills to 4- to 6-year-olds. It was an intensive and well-designed
program and under test conditions it considerably improved children's crossing
behavior. However, there was no transfer of learning to road crossing situations
that were not the subject of training.
The bicycle safety field is dominated by the work of concerned physicians
but there is a lack of assessment of patient education by physicians. The research
that's been done offers little evidence that this kind of education is effective
in increasing helmet use amongst children. Physicians disagree about whether
they should become more involved in this kind of activity.
Seat belt use tends to be higher amongst better-educated higher-income groups.
Better programs for higher-risk low-use-rate groups are recommended.
Of note is that incentives and reinforcements were used in these programs,
including, in one case, a seat loaner program that addressed the specific economic
disincentives of the lower-income target group.
Broad-based approaches with positive reinforcement and incentives are recommended.
However, the report points out that the relative importance of skills, abilities,
knowledge and motivation is controversial and there is a need to pin down questions
about whom to educate, how to educate and to what end.
A comprehensive community bicycle helmet program in Seattle aimed to increase
parents' awareness, promote use by children, and reduce financial barriers
to helmet use. Television, radio and print were used to disseminate information.
Pamphlets for physicians and health departments were distributed. A bicycle
safety program was implemented in elementary schools using posters, stickers
and incentives, and discount coupons and donations helped reduce helmet cost.
The campaign attempted to reach all income levels.
The result was an increase in helmet use amongst school-age children, from
5.5% to 15.7% over a period of 6 months.
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Formal driver education programs
The DeKalb Driver Education Project was the most comprehensive study of beginner
driver education (DE) ever undertaken. It is best known for its impressive
efforts to provide improved training and well-controlled evaluation. It was
viewed as a crucial experiment to see whether or not driver education can reduce
collisions. Students were assigned randomly to an improved curriculum, a minimum
curriculum or no training at all. The improved curriculum was more intensive
than standard DE programs.
Those trained with the improved curriculum showed better on-road skills and
lower collision rates per licensed driver during their first 6 months of driving.
Collisions per driver were the same for the different groups after 6 months.
Lund et al (1986) re-analyzed the data from the DeKalb study and compared
the results for the total group, not just those who became licensed. Students
who took the improved DE course were significantly more likely to get a driver's
license, be in collisions and have traffic violations than students who had
not taken such a course. Students taking the minimal curriculum were also more
likely to get their license but were not more likely to be in crashes or have
violations. Lund et al proposed that, until future research identifies more
effective programs, DE should be regarded as a method to teach basic driving
skills only and not as a strategy to reduce collisions.
Similar results were found in an evaluation of DE training programs run by
the Automobile Association in New Zealand.
Well-designed manuals and tests can help. An evaluation using three different
manuals and tests for new drivers, drivers renewing their licenses, and older
drivers showed a reduction in collisions. There are also indications that programs
using peer influence are effective.
The potential for reducing risk amongst more experienced drivers needs to
be explored. Training for drivers whose licenses are suspended, or training
for experienced drivers in a graduated licensing system, may provide a better
structure for effective training than training for novices. As populations
age, it may be necessary to introduce a systematic driver license renewal system
whereby all ages would receive DE or retraining.
However, evaluations of advanced driving programs show no reductions in collision
rates and a study of such programs in Germany revealed that drivers who participated
in more than one advanced course were involved in more collisions than those
who only participated in one. Worse still, the research found that drivers
who said they felt the courses had a positive effect on their driving also
had higher collision rates.
A possible explanation offered is that graduates of these programs may acquire
more confidence than their increased skill levels warrant (Wilde, 1995). Other
possibilities may be that collision rates are not a valid measure of the effectiveness
of such courses, or that the evaluated courses concentrated on the elements
of skills and collision avoidance rather than avoidance of hazardous situations
in the first place (for an article on such courses, see "Spin Control" by Doug
Annett in the Fall '95 issue of D/E).
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Various studies -- including evaluations of the Motorcycle Safety Foundation's
Motorcycle Rider Course -- have indicated that untrained riders have more crashes
than trained riders, and all riders have fewer crashes with each passing year.
Studies by Simpson and Mayhew (1990) indicate that age and experience are important
determinants of crash rates, and that motivation rather than skill is the most
important factor in reducing crash rates.
A 1980s review of 133 drunk driving education programs indicated a move towards
multi-component programs addressing a range of social, psychological and structural
Studies of the relationship between alcohol advertising and alcohol abuse
by teens suggest that such advertising has at least a mild influence on the
amount of alcohol that teens consume.
A review of the effect of treatments on DWI offenders concluded that education
and the threat of legal repercussion may work on first-time offenders, but
are too weak for serious alcohol abusers. Indications are that treatment and
deterrence should be pursued in tandem, and should be supported by public information,
youth education and incentives to reduce excessive drinking.
Guidelines on developing road safety education
- Try to create more than short-term knowledge gains.
- Make sure media expenses are cost effective.
- Target children for complete road user skills.
- Integrate education into broader-based programming that uses a variety
of methods such as social actin, support for legislation and enforcement,
incentives and publicity campaigns.
- Support community awareness of road safety and the development of local
standards of behavior.
- Support the development of a more constructive role for the news media.
- Redesign driver education to recognize the protracted process of learning
to drive and the need to use DE in conjunction with other motivational influences.
4. Health promotion: A model for road safety?
Health promotion has initiated major changes in our culture regarding healthy
values and behaviors, even though we don't always understand what caused the
development of these positive behaviors.
Despite the strong connection between health and road safety, research on
these subjects has remained isolated. The province of Quebec is a possible
exception. There, community health departments have been actively involved
in road safety.
Both health promotion and road safety have seen some gains in the 1980s --
for example, moderate reduction in smoking and increases in seat belt use.
In both fields, individual behavior change has proven difficult to achieve.
A major difference is the degree of support they get. Health promotion has
strong centralized support at all levels of government because the economic
stakes are seen to be very high. The stakes in road safety are also high, but
awareness of the dangers of unsafe road use is not so pervasive, nor are its
costs so rigorously quantified.
The huge volume of health policy, theory, research and program development
should provide some instructive principles for changing road user behavior.
As in road safety, health promotion has had to address the issue of defining
the objectives of a healthy lifestyle. Is it enough to be able to measure changes
in knowledge, attitudes and behavior or should we also have evidence about
changes in the incidence of disease and length of life?
In fact, research suggests that health promotion programs that might be expected
to lengthen life don't show signs of doing that. There are so many risk factors
involved in health that programs that tackle only one or two factors can't
be expected to show a major effect. Researchers also point out that a program
that, for example, reduces smoking will likely impact on health as a totality
-- not just in life span, but in a healthier life and a more enjoyable lifestyle,
both of which are appropriate health intervention goals.
If road safety follows this lead, we should be developing a much broader notion
of what a "good" road user is -- not just someone who doesn't have crashes.
The "competent" road user would be one who is highly skilled and crash-free.
As drivers, they would use energy efficiently, would know how to get where
they are going quickly, be helpful and non-obstructive to other road users,
and would take responsibility for reporting hazards, providing emergency help,
maintaining their cars, minimizing vehicle emissions and noise, etc. A large
compendium of desirable traits and behaviors can be imagined.
The strength of the natural linkages between healthy behaviors isn't clear,
but there may be some clustering of protective behaviors. Adopting one behavior
may make it easier to try another. It seems plausible the someone who spends
time to keep fit and teach their children to cross roads safely might be motivated
to take protective actions in other situations. Alternatively, the health promotion
field suggests we may have limits to the efforts we make for self-protection.
One way to link health and safety is to transfer the strongest behavior-change
and program-planning models of health promotion to the road safety field. Another
way of linking is to improve our knowledge of where road safety behaviors are
adopted as a means of avoiding injury and other "unhealthy" states. A third
link would expand comprehensive joint programs and break down organizational
barriers to create more cooperative efforts in health and safety. The fourth
link needed is at the level of individual protective behaviors and motives.
If there is a limit to individuals' capacity for self protection, this should
be known and the means of increasing this capacity studied.
It is important to recognize the different ways to measure the effectiveness
of health and safety programs, especially the behavioral ones. It is possible
to change behavior without changing losses, or to change losses per unit of
exposure without changing per capita losses. If road safety is viewed as a
health issue, then per capita-based loss measures are preferable. If we see
it as a transportation problem, we will need mobility-based measures such as
deaths per kilometer driven.
Health promotion starts out a step ahead of road safety in that, by definition,
it is a combination of education and other influences. Both fields share the
same problems of finding efficient ways to put disparate influences together
and keep them working together. Given the enormous and conspicuous cost of
sickness, the resources and motivation to accomplish these tough tasks have
developed first in health promotion. Perhaps road safety, itself hostage to
mind-boggling human and economic costs, can benefit from this example.
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We need to get the maximum benefits from road safety efforts. This review
has focused on the four broad classes of tools with which to influence road
user behavior, but evidence suggests the tools are not being used to their
Studies of the four domains of legislation, enforcement, reinforcement and
education make it clear that the most promising possibilities are in the terrain
between them where they support each other in synergistic efforts.
The critical issues for the future of road safety management are coordination
of the multi-faceted programs needed for effective change, evaluation of results
to provide information for others to build on and accountability to ensure
that those responsible for changing road-user behavior are fulfilling their
role. Implied in these issues is the need for organizational behavior change.
Guidelines for road safety management
1. Use multi-faceted motivational approaches to effectively influence behaviors.
2. Depict safe road use as part of a healthy lifestyle. 3. Improve the public's
understanding of behavioral influences. 4. Make the most of available behavioral
influences. 5. Coordinate resources across organizational boundaries. 6. Adopt
a continuous improvement approach to evaluation, revision and re-evaluation
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it worth reading it.. very helpful
it looked at different factors that can influence road users..
This will help. People just need to remember the very simple rule, "slower traffic keep right" Regardless if someone is speeding, if you remember that rule you will be OK. Because even if someone is going faster than you or the speed limit, you are now the slower traffic. Simple isn't it.