Evaluate to Educate

Based on an article in Safety Education: Summer 2011 by Jenny McWhirter

One of the key points which Professor Frank McKenna makes in his article: 'Education in road safety: Are we getting it right?' is that we do not plan road safety education with theory in mind, neither do we evaluate what we are doing to see if we have made a difference.

Back in 2009 I was invited to meet researchers from the Transport Research Laboratory. TRL had been asked by the Driving Standards Agency to develop a new approach to changing learner drivers' attitudes to safer driving.

The objectives of the project were to help learner drivers to:

  • Understand that being a safe driver is an important element of being a good driver
  • Reflect on solo driving and how this will impact on their lives
  • Understand what makes novice drivers vulnerable and what increases their risks of collisions
  • Recognise their limitations as drivers and develop self evaluation skills
  • Develop self efficacy and risk mitigation strategies
  • Take responsibility for learning to be a safe driver

Britta Lang, a researcher at TRL, had reviewed theories of behaviour change and recognised that in order to achieve these objectives it is important to engage learner drivers actively in the development of their knowledge and understanding of safer driving, not only in the physical control of the vehicle, but also in understanding the risks associated with being a new driver. Jenny was asked how TRL could develop a workshop which addressed the objectives and met the requirements of the theories of behaviour change.

The result was a two hour workshop in which learner drivers (who did not know one another!) could explore: what being a good driver means (objective 1); why they were learning to drive (objective 2); what makes novice drivers vulnerable (objectives 3 and 4); strategies for managing risky situations (objective 5) and how to approach their driving lessons as an opportunity to learn to drive, rather than just to pass their test (objective 6). A proportion of the time at each workshop was spent helping the participants to get to know one another so that they would feed comfortable to exchange views and contribute to the discussion.

During the planning phase TRL developed a range of evaluation strategies to inform the further development of the workshop. Learner drivers were offered incentives to participate in the workshops and to complete a questionnaire based on the theory of planned behaviour (see the glossary in www.roadsafetyevaluation.com for a description of this theory) prior to and immediately after the workshop, and participation in focus group discussions following the workshop.

Altogether 42 learners aged 17-26 years attended pilot workshops in the midlands and south of England. The evaluation suggested that most of the learners enjoyed the sessions and found them interesting. They were both surprised and pleased at the high level of interaction.

One participant said "We were given the chance to express our views freely. Our views were questioned rather than corrected. I liked the fact that we did not get preached at."

Some learners recognised the approach as similar to their PSHE lessons in school, and said school would be a good place to do this kind of session, although others enjoyed the element of discussing with people they did not know. However, some thought the workshop was a bit too like school!

Several remarked on how their driving lessons did not include many of the facts or topics introduced and one said: "I would recommend it; it's good because it teaches you more than the driving instructor or theory test."

Most interestingly the questionnaire findings suggested that learners' attitudes towards safer driving had improved significantly in the short term, although there was no change in the already high scores for self efficacy (To understand this term better see the glossary in: www.roadsafetyevaluation.com.

Without a control group we cannot reliably say that the changes were all a result of the workshop. Neither can we say that the changes would result in any change in behaviour, although some participants thought it would. One said "I feel like I could change how I would act in a car. I need to be more calm and aware of people around me." However, the findings were encouraging and in line with theoretical predictions.

The full report can be downloaded here.

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