Pre-driver education – evidence base ‘weak at best’

12.00 | 14 May 2014 | | 4 comments

The evidence base to support pre-driver education and training is “weak at best” and effectively non-existent when collisions and injuries are used to judge success, according to a psychologist from TRL.

TRL’s Poppy Husband made her comments during a presentation delivered at the Young Driver Focus event in Swindon today (14/5/14). She also said that there are circumstances where such interventions can “increase novice driver collision risk”.

Poppy Husband’s presentation summarised the findings of a recent evidence review on novice drivers, carried out by TRL on behalf of the DfT.

She said that very few interventions have been evaluated and most of those that have are of “such low scientific quality that their results cannot be determined as reliable or representative”.

She added that while there is some evidence of small and temporary changes in attitudes, “the relationship between these and subsequent driving behaviour or collision risk has not been demonstrated”.

She went on to say that some pre-driver interventions can actually cause harm, in particular where an intervention leads to early licensure which “will increase novice driver collision risk through the combined effect of exposure to risk and youth”.

Poppy Husband concluded that “robust evaluations using standardised scientific methodologies such as randomised control trials are urgently required”.


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    Before you can design an intervention that ‘works’ you first have to understand the problem you are trying to solve. This is usually done by starting with the accident and then working backwards until all the physical, environmental and human factors have been fully deconstructed.

    If you fully understand a problem it is then possible to design experiments to see whether or not a theory of causation is actually correct or not. Most current theories can be dismissed simply through simple thought experiments which saves a lot of effort and which allows more time and resources to be directed to theories that might in fact work.

    Our big problem is in allowing these new and often radical theories to take their place alongside the more conventional thinking. Having spent my entire careeer working on understanding the man/machine/system interface and the human factors involved, it is clear that there is a great deal of knowledge out there that is being completely ignored.

    If we really want to save lives out on the roads we must all embrace these new theories otherwise we will never get anywhere.

    Duncan MacKillop, Stratford on Avon
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    Is this not also the weakness in programmes such as the NDORS courses relating to speeding etc. As far as I am aware there has been no robust control group style evaluations of any of the NDORS courses, yet they are seen as the answer by many in road safety. Perhaps NDORS’ management and ACPO should read Poppy’s report and invest some real money in control group evaluations.

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    I understand and accept Poppy Husband’s findings, but it would be much more useful if she were able to tell us what might work instead of telling us what had no effect. As time passes we know much more about the psychology of driving and the world of young people. I sometimes wonder whether the problem is not in what is being delivered, but the fact that the target audience is at that stage in life when they are utterly convinced that they, and they alone, know all there is to know about life.

    David, Suffolk
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    I absolutely agree, especially with Poppy’s conclusion in the last sentence. It is genuinely refreshing to at last hear someone else advocating the implementation of scientific trials.

    I believe that, if scientific trials were run, road safety engineers would be surprised at how easy they are to implement.

    Look back at the history of medicines. There were witch doctors, spells, blood-letting etc and it was the introduction of scientific trials that suddenly produced huge improvements in health care. Road safety is still in the pre-scientific-trials era and, if we really want “intelligent solutions” in road safety that are “evidence-led”, scientific trials need to become the default testing system.

    Dave Finney, Slough
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