What Would You Say?

Question MarkLast week I received an e-mail from a young lady who was a student at a university in eastern Canada. She was involved in a traffic safety program on the campus that aimed to make it more pedestrian and bicycle friendly. She said that they had posted a number of new signs and painted some crosswalks but the drivers largely ignored them and drove the way they always did, which wasn't courteous to other types of road users.

Would I please point her to some research or advice on how to have drivers conform to safe driving practices?

My first thoughts were that had I known about a truly effective method of accomplishing this I would have used it and that method would have become popular everywhere. Collisions, injury and death would be avoided and everyone would be a courteous, defensive driver.

Instead what I see is a collection of efforts by many agencies, government and non-government, that have some influence over drivers that want to be safe. I say want to be safe because we are all human. Some of us want to be safe as much as possible, some as much as it is convenient and some who just don't care about anyone else at all.

Is it safe to say that we all bend the rules to some extent when it suits our purposes? So, how do we convince drivers to want to be safe all the time?

I think it must involve enforcement because there has to be a penalty for those who will not choose to do so on their own.

There must be education because although we would all like to think that we are better than average drivers it is a fact that many of us have only a basic grasp of traffic rules and defensive driving practices.

Finally, there must be engineering because there are things we have not done correctly or have learned to do more effectively with regard to the construction of the traffic environment.

What ideas would you pass on to this woman if you were able to? Instead of just being a driver, be the person in charge of drivers and highways.


Driver Compliance - University Road Safety project

Psychological traits of driver compliance with new safety programmes mirror known societal behavioural traits. These traits are modelled historically by seatbelt wearing rates.

In the late 60/70's just over 30% wore belts. With education the wearing rate went to 48-50% and stalled without enforcement until 1979/80.

When education was backed by enforcement the wearing rate peaked at 92% by 1995.

At the far end of the scale 1% will NOT comply under any circumstances. 7 to 8% will only comply with severe and repetetive enforcement. ( This compliance model applies to all traffic laws and Safety Projects. Compliance of better than 50% cannot be achieved without meaningful enforcement.

The big hits in compliance only come when education is backed by credible, visible, enforcement.

Criminal studies by UFC (formerly UCFV) also show the undesired behaviour does not change until the sanctions are swift, certain and to a lesser extent severe. Our American friends tackle this with assigned University Police Officers.

Good luck to this well meaning young lady if the University will not back her with enforcement. Her efforts will be largely meaningless no matter how well intended.

bikes and cars

Bikes and cars do not belong on the same piece of road. There should be a separate road or route for bikes, perhaps a barrier.
If a car driver makes a mistake or doesn't see a bike rider the result can be fatal or terribly painful for the cyclist. No amount of driver education can remove the risk potential. It would not be terribly complicated to create a route (similar to walking paths) separate from cars. This would increase the amount of cyclists wishing to use the bike as an alternate transportation mode.
I speak from physical experience and it was a painful lesson.

Enforcement works best when

Enforcement works best when all other factors have been exhausted. What we don't know is what was studied regarding crosswalk placement. You can't just pick a convenient place for pdestrians to cross, paint a couple of lines on the road and hope for the best.

The crosswalks should be highly visible by the divers. An approach that has worked well here on busy streets is to have amber strobe lights embedded in the surface of the road that the pedestrian can activate once they get to the crossing.

Widening the road at the crossing point to install a divider in the middle with signage, plants, etc... will also help to alert drivers that something is taking or is about to take place, in this case a pedestrian crossing the road.

Poor infrastructure design causes bad driving behavior by increasing the confusion and frustration in the drivers. It can also cause collisions due to panic stops and other last-minute maneuvers.

While we would like to expect that everyone will follow all of the rules all of the time, this simply doesn't happen. Enfrcement frequently wrongly accuses drivers (which is why traffic court exists) and provides a false sense of security to people who are in charge of implementing infrastructure changes such as this lady at the university.

There is a crosswalk on a busy road near where I live. The road is quite shady as it is lined with tall oak trees, it is narrow with cars parked on both sides and there is lots going on for the driver to pay attention to. Pedestrians waiting to cross the road are frequently ignored simply because there is so much for the driver to monitor and the lighting is poor. Should a driver be ticketed for failing to stop for a pedestrian waiting to cross in this case? Perhaps, but it should also be the responsibility of the engineer to ensure that the pedestrian can be seen properly.


Tim - You have surely identified the three greatest gateways to road safety - the three big “E’s” - ‘Engineering’ + ‘Education’ + ‘Enforcement’.
Our roadways must be ‘engineered’ (planned, designed and constructed) with ‘safety’ the governing objective. Road users must be ‘educated’ as a condition of use. And ‘enforcement’ of the road traffic laws must be constant and consistent.
Our governments must ultimately be held responsible for all of this. Only properly trained drivers should be licensed to use the roads and ample funding must be available for ‘enforcement’.
Your weekly column is a great ‘educator’ and should appear in far more publications. You are saving lives - keep up the good work! - Ted

Submitted by E-mail

I have done a fair bit of thinking about this whole speeding business and, while speed bumps and/or humps and roundabouts are worth considering, there must be more we can do. Here's some of my ideas:

1. "Try '2'"- In my Toyota Corolla, when approaching a modestly steep hill, like some of the ones in town, I simply put the automatic transmission into "2". This "brakes" the car enough that I don't have to touch the brakes and my speed stays at 50 - right on the nose. A Speedwatch partner of mine says it won't work on his Plymouth Voyageur, tho'. Some folks say that this is hard on the transmission and the motor. Not sure about the transmission but my tachometer stays around 2000 - no problem there, motor-wise.

2. A Survey - Drivers stopped for speeding could be issued a questionnaire along with their ticket. It could be from Speedwatch or it could be from ICBC but would be passed out by the Mountie issuing the ticket. Along with a stamped self-addressed envelope it could ask offenders to indicate WHY they were speeding and would have a series of possible answers they could check off - "I forgot..,the speed zone is unsuitable.., I was late for work..,etc. etc." Now it's quite possible ICBC or the RCMP have already done something like this. If not, I think it's worth a try and it might give us some insight into why people habitually exceed the posted speed limit. After that we could better design ways of dealing with that.

3. Road signs - not the usual ones that say "50" or "60" but huge numbers painted directly on the pavement. These are common in the U.K. and when I drove there a couple of years ago it certainly drew my attention to the posted speed as we entered a village.

4. Enforcement - The RCMP has promised a full-time traffic officer for our town but we haven't seen anyone yet. One of the constables does his best along with his other duties. While we have worked out a fairly good system to have him back up our Speedwatch volunteers, it's not nearly good enough.

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