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Does road safety education always work?

9 September 2010

Professor Frank McKenna, of the University of Reading, 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.

In his report 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
Further information is available here.