Road safety education: saving lives?07 Sep 2010

Education, education, education - the way forward for road safety?


A fundamental re-assessment of how road safety education is implemented and evaluated is needed to make sure schemes are delivering real benefits in terms of lives saved and money spent.

In his report published today by the RAC Foundation, Professor Frank McKenna of the University of Reading concludes the evidence shows many educational interventions are ineffective.

Professor McKenna says that while road safety education schemes are plausible, uncontroversial and address matters of public concern: “Educational interventions are often designed in the absence of theory or any formal body of evidence. In some circumstances they may inadvertently increase exposure to risk.”

He cites evidence that shows “… some highly skilled drivers had more crashes rather than fewer.”

Looking at public health education more broadly McKenna says that while educational campaigns aimed at tackling smoking, drinking, drug abuse and over-eating inform people about the dangers of these activities, there is little evidence to say they alone actually change behaviour. He suggests what education might do is create an environment where compulsion – such as the smoking ban – becomes more acceptable amongst the public.

He goes on to claim there is a growing impatience at the role of education in professional circles with some arguing that educational measures serve to divert attention and resources away from other safety measures that might achieve better results.

Professor McKenna believes that: “The one tiny inconvenient problem concerns effectiveness. Having examined a broad array of public health interventions, it might be hoped that a definitive conclusion could be reached that educational interventions are unambiguously successful. The results do not support that conclusion.”

Professor McKenna thinks there are several reasons why public health education might not have clear beneficial effects:

•    The schemes lack a theoretical or empirical base
•    It is assumed people who carry out harmful activities have an ‘information deficit’ about what they are doing, yet the evidence shows they often do understand the risks, yet still carry them out
•    Limited educational campaigns are not of long enough duration or impact to compete with more enduring social pressures on the individual
•    Some people see risk as an attractive part of life rather than unattractive, or even have an addiction to it (smoking and drinking for example)
•    Education might convince people that certain harmful activities are actually the norm rather than the exception
•    Education and training might make people more likely to undertake risky activity because they believe they are better able to deal with the hazards

Commenting on the report Professor Stephen Glaister, director of the RAC Foundation, said: “It is not being said that all educational interventions fail, but rather that much more evidence needs to be collected to show which ones actually work.

“This report concludes that when it comes to road safety relying on ‘education, education, education’ is simply not enough. Whilst it might tick the right boxes, far more work needs to be done to evaluate the success – or otherwise – of these projects.

“Ministers should not use this report as an excuse to cut education projects, but as a reason to demand educational schemes are of the highest standard.”

The RAC Foundation believes a number of measures should be introduced to ensure the effectiveness of road safety education:

•    A national road safety strategy
•    Education must be used sparingly to ensure quality rather than quantity
•    Awards and rewards for road safety professionals must focus on the effectiveness of schemes rather than their creativity or innovation
•    There should be closer integration of education, enforcement and engineering activity
•    There needs to be closer engagement with the insurance industry so there is potential to support effective schemes through premium reductions



Philip Gomm – Head of External Communications – [email protected]
020 7747 3486 / 07711 776448 

Notes to Editors:

The RAC Foundation is a charity which explores the economic, mobility, safety and environmental issues relating to roads and responsible road users. Independent and authoritative research, carried out for the public benefit, is central to the Foundation’s activities.

Frank McKenna is a professor of psychology and a director of Perception and Performance. He gained his PhD from University College London. He has spent more than 25 years carrying out research on driver behaviour and crash involvement, and has published extensively on the topic.

Professor McKenna’s report ‘Education in Road Safety: Are we Getting it Right?’ is available on request and will be on from the date of publication.