New report outlines challenges and opportunities for road safety practitioners

12.00 | 3 July 2017 | | 1 comment


A new ‘think piece’ published last week looks at the changing way in which roads are being used, and the challenges this presents for road safety practitioners.

The report, ‘Paving the Way; putting behaviour change at the heart of a safe system’, is an output from the 2017 Highways England Symposium on Road User Behaviour held in March at Coombe Abbey, Warwickshire.

The report responds to the themes and challenges that were raised at the symposium about the technological and societal changes that are impacting on the way roads are used. It is intended to encourage industry leaders and organisations to act in a ‘collaborative and coordinated way’ to face these challenges.

In her foreword to the report, Deirdre O’Reilly, Highways England, said: “This report challenges us to examine the current context and future trends, raising fundamental questions about the maturity of the road sector, our culture of safety and societal views on acceptance of risk to road users.

“Our understanding about how and why people behave as they do is improving all the time. We need to determine what works in terms of influencing behaviours through social and physical structures as well as influencing individuals.  

“The value of these new behavioural insights and approaches is in their application; reinforcing the process of behaviour change and leading to more sustainable behaviours. In this case a ‘safe systems’ approach.

“To refresh our approach to delivering a safe, secure and sustainable road system we need to take some time away from our immediate concerns and reframe the challenge in a broader context, explore what we can learn from other domains and apply the latest evidence of what works in behavioural approaches. 

“I hope this report will be a catalyst for: more collaboration and smarter ways of working; a more outward looking and multi- disciplinary safer systems approach; and the development  of  a  robust and accessible evidence-based approach to investment and delivery.”

Jeremy Phillips, Road Safety GB director of research, chaired one of the sessions at the Highways England symposium.

Jeremy Phillips said: “The symposium offered time and space for those with responsibilities for safer travel to discuss  – amongst themselves and others with experience of behaviour and culture change in other professions – the challenges and opportunities we face in influencing safer behaviours on today’s and tomorrow’s roads. 

“In many ways the symposium itself reflected the nature of the task before us – it was a challenging and inspiring two days which offered the ‘time out’ needed to consider the complexities of a safer roads system, and the information, intelligence and evidence that needs to be considered before action should be taken within it.

“At a time when we know so much about the nature of behaviour – and what can influence and sustain it – we also find ourselves in a time in which the environment that both contextualises and acts as a key determinant of that behaviour is changing. Changing rapidly, and in ways we don’t yet fully grasp or are able to predict. We don’t, therefore, enjoy the luxury of relying on what we know today – much less rely on ‘traditional’ approaches to influencing behaviour. 

“We need, as this useful ‘think piece’ suggests, to provide time, resource and commitment to understanding how this changing environment will impact on road user behaviour – and how we, as agents within a safer system model, can influence the nature of the behaviours that will form part of the final output of that system.”

All of the presentations from the symposium have been made available online here.


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    Encouraging … it seems that the ideas of such as Alker Tripp and J.J.Leeming are beginning to be taken up again, after the past few years’ return to the blame culture.

    Andrew Fraser
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