Experiment highlights potential of ‘sexy crossing patrols’

12.00 | 5 December 2014 | | 9 comments

A new social experiment suggests that ‘sexy crossing patrols’ could be part of the solution to reducing the number of pedestrian casualties that occur in town and city centres at night.

The social experiment, which was conducted over two hours on a busy road, observed 370 people crossing the road and used hidden cameras to monitor behaviour.

When the ‘sexy patrol’ was not present 43% of the sample chose not to use the crossing provided, but instead crossed within around 20 metres of it. When the patrol was present, the number who ignored the crossing fell to just 8%

The effects of the experiment are shared on a new social video launched today by the Safer Roads team, in the hope that it will draw the attention of a wider audience to the risks associated with being a pedestrian at night.

The experiment was prompted by a new study carried out by Road Safety Analysis in partnership with Road Safety GB, which shows that while there has been a 48% reduction in the number of child pedestrian injuries in the last 10 years, at 22% the progress in reducing the number of adult pedestrians has been much slower. This means that as a proportion of all casualties, the number of adults injured while walking has been rising year on year.

The report, ‘Things that go Bump in the Night’, was launched last week at the National Road Safety Conference. It also shows that impairment through alcohol is a major factor in night time collisions involving pedestrians, and because people have been drinking they are less aware of the risks that they are running.

Richard Owen, operations director for Safer Roads, said: “At this time of year there is always a big focus on drink driving but drunk pedestrians are also a serious concern. Shockingly one in eight pedestrians who are killed or seriously injured on our roads are drunk at the time of the crash.

“It can be very hard to connect with young adults, especially if they have been drinking, but what we have clearly demonstrated here is that their behaviour can be influenced if we can find the right means.”

Dan Campsall, communications director for Safer Roads, added: “This may not be a realistic approach to improving pedestrian safety in our towns at night, but it has demonstrated that we can make a difference to the safety on our streets when we develop creative campaigns on the basis of the evidence.

“What’s clear from our filming is that pedestrians and motorists alike certainly take care and slow down a lot more when they are reminded of how to use a pedestrian crossing properly”

FOOTNOTE: the campaign was covered on BBC South Today on 4 December.


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    In discussion with the authors of the report “Things that go bump in the night”, one of the issues that they admitted that they had not identified is the age of the pedestrian in relation to time.

    My study http://www.righttoride.org.uk/ni-pedestrian-fatality-report-2014/ found that there is a correlation between the age of the drunk pedestrian and the time of the collision.

    Older men – middle aged were more likely to be hit from early evening to late evening – i.e. between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m., whereas younger pedestrians – i.e. under the age of 45 were more likely to be hit late at night (10 p.m. onwards) through to the early hours of the morning. This is very important for various reasons, not least because it differentiates groups of people that need targetting for different reasons. My study demonstrates (and appears to be strikingly similar to other studies from around the world) that around one third of pedestrians killed are drunk.

    Finally – the concept of a “Sexy Crossing Patrol” is such a waste of time and money. Why? Because it’s a gimmick. If agencies and authorities were serious about reducing casualties at traffic lights, then they would consider giving pedestrians the same responsibilities as vehicle drivers.

    Why is it that pedestrians can – and do – walk across pedestrian crossings when the lights are red – against them – without a care in the world? Is it not time that the authorities started to consider enforcement – i.e. handing out fines to pedestrians for crossing against a red light?

    I find it incredibly frustrating to constantly read that the onus must be on the vehicle driver to be careful. That’s just not fair and it is unrealistic.

    It really is time for change. I can see the various road traffic managers who spend all their time looking for solutions to reduce pedestrian casualties – pulling their hair out – a bit like the other gimmick of the dancing traffic light.

    I just wonder if drunks (or indeed the majority of pedestrians) would be more aware if they had to fork out 80 odd quid for “careless walking”.

    To be honest, it is just so disheartening.

    What’s the point of trying to work out why people die on our roads, to then be presented with this? It’s not helping. So much money wasted on white noise.

    Elaine, Northern Ireland
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    Who is funding this nonsense? Surely not the taxpayer?

    Idris Francis Fight Back With Facts Petersfield
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    Completely endorse the thinking outside the box aspect of this experiment and, as Richard says, it has been incredibly successful in attracting attention and getting people talking. Congratulations to RSA on this. A quick serious point – I wonder if fully clothed SCPs would have the same effect ie are the young people attracted by the comfort of a familiar figure from childhood or the sexiness, or both?!

    Mandy Rigault. Oxfordshire.
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    Much of the latest literature tells us that for the most part we think in pictures; many courses and books on memory improvement techniques advise associating something you want to remember with an absurd or funny image. The use of mind maps for all sorts of purposes is based on the use of colour and imagery as well as key words. The more we learn about the brain and how it works the more, it seems, vivid images and emotion play a key role in medium and long-term memory – as the old saying goes ‘a picture paints a thousand words’.

    Today’s younger generation who have grown up with the digital revolution are perhaps more visually influenced than ever before and any novel ways that can be used to engage with this generation and indeed those of all ages should be explored. In previous threads I have written about ‘thinking outside the box’, this is a good example. At this stage we don’t really know how well new ideas like this will work – but we’ll never really know until we try. For this reason and their innovative thinking, those who devised this social experiment deserve our congratulations.

    Mark – Wiltshire
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    Great example of Fun Theory in action (www.thefuntheory.com) and actually something that has potential to address issues in specifically targeted areas.

    The experiment demonstrates an increase in crossing use form 47% to 92% – huge immediate change in behaviour among an ‘at-risk’ group in certain locations. While you may not want or be able to do this every night/week and would have little effect on habitual behaviour, consider its use during Fresher’s week at a location known to have a history of this type of collision. You have an audience who are not familiar with the location so have no engrained behaviour patterns and an intervention known to effect behaviour immediately. Use it for the week each year and then the location could be monitored for long-term efficacy (could even use randomised control trials across a number of similar locations – any university city could come up with a few, I’m sure?).

    Just a thought?

    Matt Staton, Cambridgeshire
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    I suspect the ‘sexy crossing patrols’ works largely in a similar way to the Milgram experiment. Milgram explained his results by saying: ‘few people have the social skills necessary to successfully challenge authority’ (an effect commonly referred to as “peer-pressure”). Its power seems to derive from the fact we don’t appear to realise just how strongly we are influenced by it, and it’s perhaps especially powerful within road safety!

    Dave Finney, Slough
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    I am sure that it has generated interest in the social media but that’s all that you can say. That its had so many hits as word gets round and people share and have a good laugh or snigger but as you also say it difficult getting to that audience and even more difficult to quantify its effectiveness.

    Am sure many taxi drivers enjoyed it but I am also sure that they see more of the real thing when out on duty at weekends. My own feeling is that this was a feckless and fickle waste of time (social experiment or not) and money and something not worthy of being included on this website.

    bob craven Lancs. Space is Safe Campaigner.
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    Evaluating the lasting impact of any education campaign is incredibly difficult. Will people remember to use that crossing properly in future having seen the patrol on the day, or even the BBC article on the local news? It is virtually impossible to tell.

    What we can measure is the level of engagement with the campaign. 24 hours in and there have been tens of thousands of views of the video, visits to the website, and social media shares.

    As we identified in the report there are real issues engaging with this demographic, especially given the problems of intoxication. Message retention is poor and obvious safety messages will be disregarded. Humour and peers are much more likely to influence attitudes and behaviour.

    We don’t actually think this is a serious road safety intervention and we aren’t in any way calling for this to be repeated as a way of effectively helping people to cross the road BUT as a way of generating publicity to push a safety message it has already been very effective.

    I can supply outfits though if anyone is interested in repeating this locally 🙂

    Richard Owen, Banbury
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    I am sure that you will connect with drunken young men when confronting them with a scantily clad female or similar for the ladies. Though I doubt whether the message that you hope or want to get across will actually happen or have any lasting value.

    I would have felt that the attitude of a male driver is wow, slow down and stop for as long as possible and enjoy whatever is going on, and whilst waiting enjoy the view. Will they be doing the same every weekend or is this just a one off?

    bob craven Lancs, Space is safe Campaigner
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