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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)

Table Of Contents

  1. Introduction
    Identifying what behaviors to change
  2. Behavior Change Models
    Applying theory to road safety
  3. Changing Road User Behavior
    Legislation Enforcement Reinforcement Education
  4. Health promotion: A model for road safety?
  5. Management of road safety
  6. References


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."

1. Introduction

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 results.

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:

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.


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.

Fig 1

Conditions Influencing Driver Behavior
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 report.

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.


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 sections.


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.

Child restraint legislation

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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Motorcycle helmet legislation

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.

Speed limit changes

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 more frequent.

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.

DWI legislation

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 legislation.

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:

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Continue to improve the influence and deterrence of legislation by explicit planning, implementation and evaluation. Complacency leads to a deterioration in effect.
  3. Improve deterrent effects with supporting initiatives in enforcement and publicity developed after analysis of the target populations and their current behavior.
  4. Support individual values and controls related to health issues and the social costs of careless or irresponsible road use behaviors.
  5. 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.
  6. Help develop social norms favoring safe road use that will build on people's self-regulating processes.


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:

  1. 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;
  2. Memory effect, when a driver travels the same stretch of roadway, has been measured to last as long as two weeks;
  3. General "halo" effect, when enforcement influences behavior over a wide geographic area.

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.

The theory of games

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 STEP model

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 evaluation.

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 Wales.

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 in mind.

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.

DWI enforcement:
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 enforcement activity.

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 being developed.

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.

  1. There can be no perceived risk of enforcement without actual risk.
  2. Enforcement units must be highly visible to be effective.
  3. Visible enforcement must appear to be a real threat.
  4. Uncertainty can extend the range over which drives perceive a real threat.
  5. 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 well.


Research has produced the following guidelines in introducing enforcement measures to modify road user behavior:

  1. Provide resources and coordination to maximize short-term and short-range effects of enforcement and enhance halo effects.
  2. Create sanctions with real bite, and not just the "cost of doing business," by keeping up to date with public perceptions of probable apprehension.
  3. Understand the enforcement "game" and break the pattern, looking to STEPS as a possible tool.
  4. 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 at all.

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 rewards

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 half.

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.

Guidelines on reinforcement

This survey of reinforcement initiatives for influencing road user behavior suggests the following guidelines for future work in this field:

  1. Use behavior-analysis techniques in operational programs to identify target behaviors and influence them.
  2. Develop practical incentives and feedback programs with appropriate evaluations to maintain their effectiveness.
  3. 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 be ineffective.

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 already have.

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.

School-based programs

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 of helmet-wearing.

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 theories.

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.

Parent education

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.

Patient education

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.

Community education programs

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.

Advanced driver training

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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Motorcycle rider training

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.

Anti-DWI education

A 1980s review of 133 drunk driving education programs indicated a move towards multi-component programs addressing a range of social, psychological and structural influences.

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 programs

  1. Try to create more than short-term knowledge gains.
  2. Make sure media expenses are cost effective.
  3. Target children for complete road user skills.
  4. 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.
  5. Support community awareness of road safety and the development of local standards of behavior.
  6. Support the development of a more constructive role for the news media.
  7. 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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5. Management of road safety

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 maximum capability.

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 of programs.

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it worth reading it.. very helpful

it looked at different factors that can influence road users..

man thanks


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.

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