Question Time session sparks passionate debate about ‘Safe Drive, Stay Alive’

12.00 | 22 November 2017 | | 11 comments

A question about the effectiveness of ‘Safe Drive, Stay Alive’ and other similar live productions sparked a passionate debate at the 2017 National Road Safety Conference.

The question, posed during the conference Question Time session by Rob Tillier, owner of Accelerate Driver Training, was as follows: “I have heard from many experts that the shock tactics employed by Safe Drive, Stay Alive style events are largely ineffective and can even be damaging. Why are emergency services, supported by many road safety organisations, conducting such events when the ineffectiveness is clear and little/no evaluation has been undertaken to prove otherwise?”

The first panelist to respond was Matt Staton who heads up Cambridgeshire County Council’s road safety team. Speaking as both a road safety practitioner and someone involved in road safety research, for him the “key element here is around evidence-based planning and evaluation”.

He asked, “where is the evidence base telling us that we should be delivering these programmes”, and spoke of “clear evidence there that there is a possibility of negative, unintended consequences”.

Matt Staton added: “Is anybody in the evaluations they are doing for these programmes, trying to measure whether they are seeing these unintended consequences of increased confidence in young male drivers…and where, if we upset people in the audience, that is seen as potentially a positive thing – I would argue that is completely the wrong approach.

“If we as practitioners in any other subject area walked into a school or college and made a percentage of the audience cry, or leave the room because they were too upset, we would not be asked back. So why is that approach seen to be acceptable in road safety?”

Shaun Helman, head of transport psychology at TRL, added: “The question was why are people still delivering it, and I’d like to quote my good friend Simon Christmas on this – he told me recently something that stuck with me: ‘History eats logic for breakfast’. That I think it why it is still happening.

“As a road safety community, we need to be better at telling people what works and what doesn’t and getting the information out there so that people can make informed choices to what they deliver.

“So anybody who is delivering it now, stop and re-evaluate what you are doing. That’s me telling people in this room – and then could you go and tell everyone else please.”

First to respond from the audience was John Siddle from the Lincolnshire Road Safety Partnership who talked about his partnership’s programme called ‘Too Fast, Too Soon’.

He told delegates that while it did start off as ‘some blood and gore’ it has now been turned into a theatre production.

He said: “It’s not there to frighten them, scare them or upset them, it’s to dig into their emotions because they are 17 years old and they are emotional.

“We look at the effects on family, the risks, all those sorts of things. I’m afraid you cannot just say stop scaring them, because we’re not. We agree that some are, but not everybody, they’re all similar programmes, but they’re not the same.”

Simon Rewell, road safety manager for Insure The Box, said his company is ‘proud sponsors of Learn 2 Live’, which educates around 15,000 young people every year.

He said: “I think a lot of the concerns being raised here are very true. I have had the privilege of actually travelling around the country and listening to – and seeing demonstrated – a number of these types of initiatives.

“Some of them I wouldn’t want to see or expose anybody to because sadly there does still appear to be, for some, the tendency to want to scare and the use blood, guts and gore.

“However, some such as Learn 2 Live, have now taken a far more balanced approach and rather than taking that kind of extreme view, work on the basis of what is genuine reality, and actually what will motivate people to change their thinking.

“What is more important is that these shouldn’t be just one hit wonders that youngsters attend on just that one day a year and it’s finished. The key to these events is to have it continually brought up throughout the academic year, again with engagement from the local authorities. That means it is not just an emotional peak of one event, it is a thought process that young people maintain.”

John Siddle contributed again, saying that “through evaluation we have had a 70% reduction in 17-24 year olds that come to harm on our roads.”

Shaun Helman challenged that claim, saying he would “want to see that data, I would want to see it peer reviewed, I want to see it properly designed and published and open to scrutiny. I don’t believe there is very much in road safety that is”.

Listen to the whole ‘Safe Drive, Stay Alive’ debate which starts at 32 mins and 19 secs into the Question Time video above.

Category: Young drivers.



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    I was contacted by a 3rd party for the evaluation, carried out by Lincoln University, that Sean ‘challenged’ and wanted to pore over as he felt it would not be true as little in road safety was, which I duly sent. I have to date heard nothing back.

    John Siddle, Lincoln
    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

    I am a learning & development specialist of 40 years standing and would not dare to venture into the world of fire & rescue, medicine or policing without appropriate training. I am concerned that Police, Fire and Medical services are venturing into the world of education & training without relevant theoretical background, knowledge or skill. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing as is evident from the outcomes of some Safe Drive, Stay Alive events.

    I raised the initial question and indeed it was biased (Katherine Ware) and deliberately provocative. I have seen 2 performances of Safe Drive, Stay Alive in my area (Thames Valley Police & Hants Road Safety Partnership), 2 years apart. Both times my colleagues and I, all ADIs, have come out of the event in tears. There is no follow-up and many are left ‘hanging’. I have asked the organisers of the event for evidence that what they are doing is evaluated as being effective with no response.

    I have heard about and read about the work being undertaken by Surrey and Greater Manchester and am hugely encouraged. Further, I have been to the Kent Fire & Rescue Road Safety experience, which puts across a Safe Drive, Stay Alive style presentation but follows up IMMEDIATELY (within minutes) with a range of activities which temper very well what was first seen. Most definitely I am not against these initiatives provided the approach is proven to produce results without an adverse effect on the vulnerable in the audiences. Many congratulations and thanks to many who are taking a professional and measured approach to such events.

    At Accelerate Driver Training, we take a slightly different approach with the work we do in schools by addressing smaller groups over a period of time rather than mass audiences in a ‘big-hit’ so that we can cater for any individual needs in a sensitive manner. We get to nearly 1000 14-19 year-olds per year for 1.5 hours per student. The number of man hours we invest is approximately 80 voluntarily, although that could be costed @ approx £3000 (£3 per head). I would suggest that this is probably more effective in outcome and more cost-effective (although don’t know) than the mass audience style event. Evaluation indicates that we are altering attitudes in a positive way.

    We could all earn from Iain Watson who presented at the conference. He said we should put a positive message across re road safety. Iain’s idea, by way of example is not 1 in 6 crash in the 1st 6 months after passing the test BUT 5 in 6 DO NOT crash in the 1st 6 months of passing the test. So, his philosophy is let’s engage with the ‘good guys’ to see if they can help us find ways of getting to the ‘bad guys’. A fascinating alternative approach which I am growing to love.

    My end game – encourage as many as possible to deliver road safety interventions, but before doing so, be sure they understand how to deliver effective learning interventions and understand the consequences of their actions if the training is delivered ‘incorrectly’. Let’s get the emergency services and training professionals working together!

    Rob Tillier, Founder/Director, Accelerate Driver Training, Yateley, Hants
    Agree (2) | Disagree (0)

    As an attendee at the Conference, I found the discussion around the validity of the Safe Drive Stay Alive / Learn 2 Live programme valuable but frustrating. The initial question was biased, and I found the comments about the fire and rescue service unhelpful, disrespect and inappropriate. Within Hertfordshire, the Learn 2 Live programme is well supported and reviewed on an annual basis, and has previously been independently evaluated and was found to have effective results. I totally agree that it is important to keep checking our programmes and improving and evolving them, as I believe all those running similar initiatives do. At the Learn 2 Live events this year, we gave out many positive messages and very much encouraged all the students to reflect on strategies as drivers, possible drivers and passengers on how they could deal with tricky situations.

    I do welcome a more collaborative national approach to get the best initiatives possible to keep all our road users as safe as possible.

    Katherine Ware
    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

    The question appears to be based upon perceptions, rather than commenting on evaluation that has been done. As I understand it, and reflecting John Siddle’s comments, Safe Drive Stay Alive and other similar initiatives have evolved considerably over the last few years – including resource packs to maintain the message after the event.

    I’m no expert on these things, but John is spot on. From the performances I have seen there isn’t blood and gore. Comments by Shaun Helman of TRL and Rob Gifford of The Road Safety Trust appear to be less than favourable, although there was little in the way of suggested alternatives. Perhaps the panel and audience were affected by fatigue!

    Both TRL and The Road Safety Trust now have an opportunity to demonstrate leadership in national road safety by investing in a peer review they recommend. I’m sure many would look forward to any lessons learnt aimed at improving the effectiveness of interventions.

    The Greater Manchester Casualty Reduction Partnership have recognised the importance of supporting initiatives for younger people and will continue to support this priority group.

    N Mohammed, Greater Manchester
    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

    We too agree that SafeDrive StayAlive deliveries are NOT shock tactics. We use local stories featuring local people to highlight that these incidents do happen in Lancashire. We work very closely with SDSA GM sharing speakers and resources, we did some preliminary research work that showed young people do have empathy and do learn from other people’s experiences (this has been read by Shaun Helman TRL but he mustn’t remember).

    Initiatives like SafeDrive StayAlive offer young people an insight into the consequences of risk taking behavior on the roads that they otherwise wouldn’t have. As Lesley GM says this is the only real road safety input most young people get in the couple of years before being behind the wheel of a car.

    As with comments from others we have sessions set for February with an open invitation if you would like to attend please do get in touch

    I’d call on the panel to look at it properly on a national scale on our behalf, we know that separately none of us have the budget to do our own in depth research and evaluation so lets do it together with some national backing.

    Rhiannon Leeds, Lancashire
    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

    I, like Lesley Allen, was not able to attend the conference this year, but would like to take this opportunity now to contribute to this discussion.

    In response to the panel, I do not think the suggestion of simply stopping the delivery of well-established programmes/interventions is a realistic option, and one that will not be well received by everyone involved in the Surrey and GM programmes (and I would suspect elsewhere). It would also be a huge resource loss and a wasted opportunity. Across the country the various SDSA programmes (and similar by other names), mostly led by fire services and police services, have developed a very large list of contacts, a very large client base, the good will, interest and support of hundreds of schools and colleges and MOD bases and annual contact with tens of thousands of vulnerable road users.

    In addition, and I’m not sure if this was meant to ‘provoke’ debate and a response from the audience, but the perception that the fire service only comprises ‘’big red trucks’’, that we ‘’love crunched metal’’, have ‘’no fires to go to anymore, so they have to visit car crashes’’ is just wrong, over simplistic and professionally insulting – to everyone in the fire service, including educationalist within each organisation. I’ve worked for Surrey Fire & Rescue Service, purely in educational roles, since 2000 and on SDSA since 2004. Prior to this I was a teacher, for 6 years, in secondary education. I’m sure there are many others out there, Lesley Allen in GMFRS for one, who have similar backgrounds, who are motivated to make a difference, are considered and balanced in their approach to road safety and open to guidance, advice and support to deliver on their ‘frontlines’.

    In Surrey we’ve been delivering SDSA since 2005. 11 000 – 12 000 young people, from the vast majority of Surrey schools and colleges, attend our performances each year, giving a total audience of 138 000, since April 2005. SDSA aims to positively influence the attitudes and driving behaviours of young people through helping them to make informed choices, based on the emotional, moral, physical and legal realities and impacts of road traffic collisions – aiming to do so without lecturing, the use of sensationalism, shock or gore. Over the last 13 years we have invited, received and collated a large amount of feedback from students, teachers, parents, VIP invited guests, partner agencies and financial supporters (you can see some of these at and this has been overwhelmingly positive, supporting the SDSA team’s belief that SDSA has a positive influence on young people’s attitude to driving and risk.

    However, we understand, as do many other organisations, that anecdotal evidence, feedback and internal evaluation is not the same as independent, external evaluation. As Lesley Allen has mentioned in her post, and it seems the panel were unaware of this work, Surrey and Greater Manchester SDSAs undertook a joint, 12 month long, independent evaluation in 2015/16, with large sample sizes, the findings of which evidence positive changes in young people’s attitudes, with statistically significant reductions in the level of young people’s willingness to undertake risky behaviours at 3 months and 12 months after attending. In October 2015 (before performances), March 2016 and October 2016, questionnaires were distributed to schools and colleges in Surrey and Greater Manchester, 23 of which were in Surrey. Students formed the Intervention group, or the Comparison group, who did not attend SDSA. At Stage 1, over 2100 completed questionnaires were received from the Intervention group students and 308 from the Comparison group. This was followed by over 1900 and 482 returns at Stage 2 and 1100 and 479 returns at Stage 3. This was a huge piece of work, primarily for 3 people – Lesley Allen, myself and Tanya Fosdick of Road Safety Analysis.

    Such large sample sizes enabled rigorous statistical testing, which revealed statistically significant improvements, both at 3 months and 12 months, for the Intervention group, over and above the Comparison group. Such findings related to young people’s willingness to take risks, friends’ likelihood to take risks, family approval, friends’ approval and attitudes. The data from Surrey and Manchester, with very different socio-economic profiles, produced very similar positive results. The full reports can be viewed at

    The results of the joint 2015/2016 evaluation, previous independent evaluations, in Surrey, by the University of Surrey (November 2008) and Opinion Research Services (November 2009) indicate that attendees are positively influenced by what they see, hear and experience, together, in their peer group. It is important, however, that we continue to seek, and to learn, how we can improve delivery and longer term outcomes.

    The 2015/2016 evaluation reported that neither ‘’passenger related behaviours’’ nor ‘’personal vulnerability’’ changed or improved to a statistically significant extent. From these results, a number of recommendations were made, including to ‘’adapt the intervention to include more passenger focus’’, ‘’highlight the alternative consequences of risky behaviour, such as loss of freedom, mobility and the resulting social stigma’’ and to ‘’introduce credible coping mechanisms, either through SDSA itself or follow up lessons’’. These recommendations have been a focus for development, in GM and Surrey, in 2016, 2017 and into 2018 and work is being undertaken to aim to address these recommendations. This work includes extending learning through the Young Driver’s Guide, the Follow Up Tutor Resource Pack, incorporating additional Behaviour Change Techniques, and, most recently, the use of Road Safety GB Connect. All are referenced on our website.

    In summary – Surrey and GM SDSAs recognise that the performances, on their own, cannot address all the issues around safe driving of young drivers, their attitudes and those of their passengers. However, we have found evidence that the performances are, firstly, doing no harm and, secondly, there is statistically significant evidence that they are having some positive impact – up to 12 months post attendance. Thirdly, we have recognised the need to develop SDSA and have taken into account the recommendations of the evaluation.

    I hope that all those present on the ‘Question time’ panel, are able to take a look at the independent evaluation report (produced by Road Safety Analysis on behalf for SDSA Surrey and SDSA GM) to see the extent to which we have attempted to rigorously evaluate our work and the outcomes of our interventions – namely Safe Drive Stay Alive – and how we are aiming to address the recommendations to improve our respective programmes.
    I, as I expect would others, would welcome support and guidance from the industry experts/academics, to build on what we have so far achieved, to ensure that we maintain our client base, ‘do no harm’, avoid ‘unintended consequences’ and to work together to ensure that young drivers (and their passengers) receive appropriate and effective road safety education so that we can (using a term from the 2016 RSGB Conference) ‘’Close the gap’’ between the seemingly diverse expectations of academia and many road safety practitioners.

    Mark Taylor, Surrey Fire & Rescue Service
    Agree (1) | Disagree (0)

    Thank you for the opportunity to join this debate. I work for Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service, and together with our other emergency service colleagues in Greater Manchester we are immensely proud of our achievements through developing and delivering Safe Drive Stay Alive over the past 4 years. We have delivered to almost 30,000 young people during this time, 30,000 young people who would not have had a road safety input otherwise. Together with Surrey SDSA, we have recently commissioned Road Safety Analysis to do a longitudinal evaluation of our respective SDSA initiatives. This showed us where we were having a lasting positive influence on the attitudes and intended behaviours of young drivers and passengers, and also where we needed to focus our efforts on more. We have learned from and further developed our schemes through reflecting on this independent evaluation. For example, introducing more relatable consequences for young people into our stories, and developing follow-up resources to encourage young people to explore the issues raised at the performance for them as individuals and with their friends. Dr Fiona Fylan developed the content of this resource pack and it is used comprehensively by our colleges after attendance. I am just in the process of gathering feedback from students, tutors and professionals in relation to our 2017 delivery and will be happy to make a report on this available to anyone interested. Finally, we do NOT use shock tactics in GM SDSA, but rather emotionally engaging stories that young people can relate to. Our dates for 2018 are already set so please feel free to contact me should you wish to see it for yourselves. Thanks, Lesley Allen

    Lesley Allen, GMFRS
    Agree (1) | Disagree (0)

    Really interesting discussion and what a good way to share it with a wider audience – thank you!

    The intention behind many of the emergency services presentations such as Safe Drive-Stay Alive and Learn2Live is an attempt to transfer the experience and consequent attitude shift from emergency service members to the students based on the very human assumption that “If you’d seen what I see at crashes, you would drive more slowly/anticipate better/look more carefully”. In fact, you cannot transfer experience in this way so these well-intentioned initiatives cannot work in the way they are intended. A single session like this is of itself a memorable but minimal intervention. Recent DfT data shows that most children receive 2 hours of road user education throughout their educational career. So for many students, this one event may be the only thing they are taught about using the roads in their entire school career.

    That said, emergency service officers have a significant profile and their high energy approach and compelling witness can gain the attention of secondary age students, but this must be as a starting point to lead into the provision and guided discovery of information to enable students to work these things out for themselves – based on proven educational principles and techniques and with follow up sessions and tutorial guidance for teachers. This will enable teachers to continue and establish this new information and understanding with their students. It should form part of a planned and appropriately staged road user programme that is delivered throughout a child’s education into adulthood.

    Shaun Helman is right to say that few ETP programmes are evaluated in the way and to the scale that other disciplines view as essential. This is due to the structure of Road Safety ETP in this country – devolved to individual highway authorities and erratically funded and delivered according to local (and political) priorities. The scale of study Shaun seeks cannot be achieved under the current structure and funding arrangements.

    What is needed is a national approach that will take the lead on key issues. The new DfT educational approach and provision is an excellent template. Also needed is support and resource for local providers to test and evaluate small programmes. Then to enable the roll out of successful or promising schemes to a regional or national basis. I think there is a clear role for Road Safety GB in delivering this by working in partnership with the DfT and Public Health England.

    Honor Byford, North Yorkshire
    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

    I think traditionally, road safety education videos showing ‘crashes’ for the shock effect fall short, simply because we, or the viewer, know that at the end of the day, they are not ‘real’ incidents. On the other hand, an actual collision shown (with necessary permissions and clearances) does have an impact because you can’t re-create with actors, the fear, shock and anguish that is experienced in the seconds following a collision. It doesn’t have to be blood and guts, just the ‘real-life has just entered my comfort bubble’ moment of shock and fear that should make the viewer think.

    A few years ago on the BBC’s Motorway Cops programme, it captured the moments when two apparently unstable women ran into the live M’way and both were hit. The distress, confusion and fear that is experienced by those on the scene and the viewer, stays with you. The point is, even the cleverest CGI mock-up can’t re-create that. With so many actual real-life incidents available on You Tube now, more should be made of that resource to try and convey to road users what collisions are really like. No blood & guts necessary, just that “If only I could turn the clocks back” moment.

    Hugh Jones, Cheshire
    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

    Shock tactics do work but context is key.

    The preferred version of Pass Plus in Wales (PPC) includes a workshop prior to the driving module hosted normally by a road safety professional. In the workshop the candidates receive of a range of educational messages and see the ‘Cow’ road safety video and other graphic short crash films about driver distraction, speeding, seatbelts etc.
    The feedback questionnaire at the end of every workshop always asks what the candidates think about the whole workshop, particularly the crash clips and whether these should continue to be included. The candidates invariably say that these crash clips are important and should stay. That is overwhelmingly positive feedback on their continued use from the target audience measured over thousands of candidates. Without any coercion.

    Pat, Wales
    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

    Interesting to watch – makes a change from simply reading peoples condensed views on a forum.

    A couple of points of interest: on the subject of strict liability, I like Rob Gifford’s reasoning about the introduction or importation of risk on the roads coming from the motorised vehicle driver/rider and therefore it would not be unreasonable for that group of road users to be initially held responsible – unless evidence proves otherwise.

    On the subject of shock tactics as an educational tool – although it is said there is no evidence of effectiveness, how would we know anyway? As with other road user education and publicity, it is open-ended in that we cannot know how and if the recipients responded positively in terms of better driving/riding, but I don’t think that means it shouldn’t be done. Does depend on the message and how it’s put over though – some campaigns are better than others.

    Hugh Jones, Cheshire
    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

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