Public behaviour report has pointers for road safety professionals

15.34 | 19 April 2010 | | 2 comments

An independent report commissioned by the Department of Health contains information that may prove useful to road safety professionals when planning interventions.

‘Influencing Public Behaviour to Improve Health and Wellbeing’, by Geoff Mulgan, was published in February 2010.
In the foreword, the author says: “Persuading people to adopt healthier behaviours has become a central theme of modern public health policy. Yet it is rarely easy. Most of us do things that damage our health. And most of us have habits that we would like to change.

“The question I was asked to address was what is known about what works in changing behaviour. To answer the question we looked at insights coming from the many fields concerned with behaviour – from commercial advertising to the latest academic insights from behavioural psychology.

“It was soon clear that this is as much an art or craft as it is a science. There are many promising ideas, and there are some success stories. However the evidence base is thin.

“Behaviours can change in fundamental ways – but usually through the interaction of incentives, information, peer pressures and changes to the environment, rather than because of any one set of measures.

“Some of the lessons suggest the need to shift direction. For example, we are increasingly learning about the importance of networks in shaping how people behave, and how behaviour can be changed. Who you know shapes how you act. This suggests the potential for much more targeted action rather than mass advertising.

“Other lessons are about the tone that communications should adopt. Sometimes very stark messages are unavoidable. But against a backdrop of huge volumes of communication, it’s important to be economical, and often more can be achieved by positive messages, that emphasise personal wellbeing rather than just stoking fears.”

Click here to download the report.


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    With regards to Roy Buchanan’s comments, I recently held a discussion with a learner driver of mine as to why it should have been necessary for our local authority to put up signs saying ‘merge in turn’, with helpful little arrows to show drivers how to do this, at points where 2 lanes reduce to one. I told her about one particularly nasty incident I had had where a driver accelerated hard from behind me to close the gap so I could not merge with the traffic when I had been in the outside lane, and thereby putting me in serious danger from approaching traffic. After a moment of reflection the learner said she felt it was down to our British long-standing custom of queueing and that drivers using the outside lane when others were queueing in the inside one were seen as rude queue jumpers who must be stopped! I think she has a point!

    Jackie Willis, Dereham, Norfolk
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    The significance of psychology and sociology in road safety cannot be over-estimated. Anyone can be taught to drive a car or ride a motorcycle but influencing that person’s attitude is difficult unless a deep understanding of what motivates them is considered. It is a fascinating field of study although it is unclear how the knowledge gained could be put to use. Let me leave you with a thought on which to ponder. In the UK I frequently see drivers deliberately denying other motorists the opportunity to make or complete a move. They tighten up to the vehicle in front, close the gap the other driver was aiming for or squeeze him out forcing him to give way. It appears to be spite or resentment. In France there seems to be a much lower level of frequency of this behaviour. Why should that be? Psychology may provide the answer.

    Roy Buchanan, Sutton
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