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Care needed when designing educaton packages

24 January 2019

Traffic safety education is considered an essential part of the integrated approach to traffic safety, as it teaches and corrects behaviour that is clearly related to traffic safety. A new report warns that as very little is known about the effectiveness of traffic safety education, care needs to be taken . projects that are poorly designed can in fact have an adverse effect and the money as well as time could better be spent on well designed and evaluated projects and measures instead.

The generally-preferred method for determining the effectiveness of a road safety measure is the reduction in fatalities and collisions. The overall goal for traffic safety education is also to reduce the amount of fatalities and collisions. However, a correlation between this reduction and educational activities is difficult to establish since many factors besides education influence this overall goal. As collisions occur relatively infrequently, and since the target groups of the individual educational activities are small, changes in behaviour are instead chosen to determine the effectiveness of education projects.

Knowledge, skills and attitudes are known to influence a person’s behaviour on the road, and it is in turn known that a correlation exists between behaviour and the risk of being involved in a collision. Changes in knowledge, skills, motivations, behaviour and attitudes are therefore useful parameters for measuring the effectiveness of educational activities.

However, very little is known about the effectiveness of traffic safety education. The scope of relevant studies is usually too small to generalise and it is, furthermore, generally not tested whether the established learning objectives were also met in practice.7 A meta-analysis of 674 studies evaluating traffic safety education programmes resulted in only 15 studies that met the methodological requirements, although even the methodological quality of these 15 studies was considered generally poor.8 This meta-analysis however dates from 2002 and while traffic safety education might have changed in the meantime, more recent analyses are not available. It is therefore important that education projects are designed and evaluated based on proven behavioural theories, as is for example done in the Norwegian Council for Road Safety’s model for behaviour modification that is used as a model for quality assurance and evaluation of traffic safety programmes.9

The principle “there is no harm in trying” should furthermore not be applied to traffic safety education. Projects that are poorly designed can in fact have an adverse effect and the money as well as time could better be spent on well designed and evaluated projects and measures instead.

The lack of evaluations, both in terms of quantity as well as quality, underlines that more should be done to improve the evaluation of education projects all over Europe. Both outcome evaluations (changes in behaviour) and process evaluations (the project’s pedagogical quality) should be undertaken in order to improve the quality of traffic safety education in Europe.

A forthcoming LEARN! publication, a manual on best practice guidelines for designing, testing, implementing and evaluating traffic safety and mobility education, will look into measuring the effectiveness and the theory-based design and evaluation of educational activities in greater detail.

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