Safe Drive Stay Alive – 15 years on, does it work?

08.58 | 6 November 2019 | | | 2 comments

Safe Drive Stay Alive Surrey is underway for a 15th consecutive year and Nick Rawlings, editor of Road Safety News, went along on the opening day.

Established in 2005, Safe Drive Stay Alive Surrey (SDSA) is an annual series of live educational performances featuring a sequence of films and live speakers, designed to make young people aware of their responsibilities as drivers and passengers, and to positively influence their attitudes.

People affected by a road traffic collision – parents, siblings and young drivers/passengers – either take to the stage or appear on screen to tell their real life stories about the impact of a fatal or life changing collision. 

These personal stories are interspersed by representatives of the emergency services speaking about their experiences of attending collisions or treating patients – again either in person or by video.

SDSA 2019
The 2019 Safe Drive Stay Alive programme comprises 18 performances for schools and colleges and one evening performance for the public, staged between Monday 4 November and Thursday 14 November.

All the performances take place at the Dorking Halls theatre in Dorking, with students arriving by coach from schools and colleges from across the county. The transport costs are met by SDSA.

The 2019 programme is costing between £100 – 110k to produce, including transport – but excluding the time put in by Mark Taylor, principal organiser and his colleagues from Surrey Fire & Rescue and other partners.  

Funding comes from a wide range of ‘supporters’ including Surrey’s Police & Crime Commissioner, Exxon Mobil, esure, Drive SMART, Kier, Toyota, High Sheriff Youth Awards and Surrey Education Trust. Most of these organisations have been involved with SDSA for several years, some since the outset.

90 educational establishments will participate in 2019, with 12,500 young people booked to attend across the two weeks. 

In addition to the live performance, there is a SDSA tutor resource pack to enable schools and colleges to further explore four key issues: impulsivity, peer pressure, mobile phones and drugs and alcohol. Mark Taylor estimates that between 20-25% of the educational establishments that attend actually use the follow up resources.

The performance itself
Close to 600 young people entered the auditorium to loud music and coloured lighting, creating the kind of atmosphere more associated with a nightclub, rather than a road safety educational session. 

The young people in the audience were clearly excited and there was an air of anticipation. 

As we got closer to the scheduled start time the lighting stepped up a notch, drawing an audible reaction from the audience signalling their approval.

It was clear right from the off that this is a very slick and professional production.

The show started bang on time @ 12.45 with the MC who ‘warmed up’ the audience by welcoming the colleges and schools in attendance. He went on to explain that SDSA is about ‘giving young people the information to make the right decisions’, and said young driver deaths in Surrey have halved in the 15 years SDSA has been running.

There was then a brief video clip featuring a ‘vlogger’ who gave details of a series of vouchers and incentives exclusively for SDSA attendees – all part of a data collection exercise to enable the SDSA team to have an ongoing dialogue with attendees.

The main performance comprised six video clips and five live presentations. In all, the performance lasted around 1 hour 20 minutes.

There is no doubt the audience was engaged throughout – there was no chat, no noise, they were definitely absorbed in the production.

The presentations included a bereaved father talking about the loss of his 18 year-old-son, and a police officer who said knocking on the door to break the news of a serious RTA is ‘one part of the job police officers don’t like’.

Another video was narrated by a young man trapped in a burning car for 5-6 minutes – he survived with 50% burns, but his mate died. 

Another film told the story of a young man who wasn’t wearing a seat belt and suffered brain damage. It was, he said, ‘the worst day of my life – I shouldn’t have survived’.

The performance concluded with all five live presenters back on stage with the MC. The audience was asked to reflect on how they feel at the end of the performance, compared to when they entered the auditorium to loud music and lights.

Does it work?
The SDSA website says that since 2005, six independent SDSA evaluations have been commissioned. 

The most recent began in October 2015 and was the most ambitious in terms of the number of schools and students involved, the length of the study, the use of a comparison group and the achievement of statistically significant results.

SDSA Surrey and SDSA Greater Manchester (GM) jointly commissioned Road Safety Analysis to see if there was any evidence of young people’s attitudes to driving being positively influenced, up to 12 months after attending. 

The SDSA website says the evaluation ‘evidenced some positive changes, with statistically significant reductions in the level of young people’s willingness to undertake risky behaviours at three months and 12 months after attending’.

The evaluation also found 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’; to ‘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.

SDSA says measures to address these recommendations include: extending learning by distributing the Young Driver’s Guide to attendees; producing the follow up tutor resource pack, incorporating additional behaviour change techniques into the performance; and using the Road Safety GB Connect bulk email system to deliver ‘targeted road safety messages and information tailored to young drivers’.



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    I am encouraged to see the evaluation results and the commitment to address issues which to appear previously to have been missed. The evaluation appears to have addressed attitudes but not behaviours. Whilst the evaluation shows a ‘willingness’ not to engage in risky behaviours (the attitude) it does not evidence whether that has happened in practice (the behaviour).

    I am delighted to hear that a nationwide evaluation will be undertaken of this and similar events and hope that it will extend to assessing behaviours post event including reviewing crash stats.

    I hope that the assessment will also address the unintended consequence of how many young people are completely put off driving having seen the show.

    Rob Tillier, Yateley, Hants
    Agree (3) | Disagree (0)

    I was a SCC RSO at the start and I can remember Damon Hill attending one of the very first sessions at Dorking Hall as a guest.

    The young students were emotionally empathetic with SDSA and its good to see the evaluation reflects this!

    Gareth, Surrey
    Agree (5) | Disagree (5)

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