Research & reports

Title: Paving the Way; putting behaviour change at the heart of a safe system

Organisation: Highways England
Date uploaded: 19th July 2017
Date published/launched: July 2017

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

The report 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.”

The report also identifies ‘an opportunity to look again at crash investigation’ and suggests any new approach should ‘tackle the need for a fault-neutral system perspective on contributory factors, of a kind that the police are not well- placed to provide’. The authors say that in the longer-term crash investigation would ideally be undertaken by an independent ‘institute’.

While acknowledging that data and evidence are critical, the report suggests their value can only be unlocked by an effective partnership between researchers with the skills to interrogate and interpret data, and practitioners with the skills to use research findings and shape the agenda for future research.

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