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Improving Road Safety Education and Driver Training

Improving Road Safety Education and Driver Training

Raising awareness of the need to pay attention on the road

Over 69% of road traffic accidents occur each year because drivers aren’t paying attention or are distracted. Professor Derrick Watson and Dr Melina Kunar’s research investigates how people process and pay attention to their environment and they have worked with police forces, local authorities and road safety organisations to educate road users about the importance of paying attention and minimising distractions whilst driving.

The challenge

According to the Department for Transport, 69% of accidents that occur each year in the UK arise because of human error, with 40% occurring as the driver failed to look properly. One of the biggest distractions for drivers is talking on a mobile phone, and whilst talking on a hands-held phone while driving is illegal, there is no legislation preventing hands-free phone conversations while behind the wheel. The team’s research demonstrated, however, that although it is legal, talking on a hands-free mobile phone leads to a consistent cognitive delay in driver response, which could have serious consequences. Professor Watson and Dr Kunar’s project has been crucial in raising awareness of the importance of paying attention to what we see whilst driving and avoiding distractions.

Our approach

The research team at the University of Warwick developed an intervention to emphasise the importance of visual awareness when driving and change people’s awareness of what they see when driving. Their research focused on two key areas:

  • The development of an intervention highlighting the importance of paying attention: The team developed a computer-based driver education programme that illustrates the limits of our observational abilities.

  • The effects of mobile phones on driver distraction: Professor Watson and Dr Kunar’s research into the effect of mobile phone conversations on visual attention revealed that people made twice as many errors when talking and driving.

Our impact

The team’s work has informed driver education programmes and road safety campaigns of police forces, local authorities and road safety organisations. The Dorset Police adopted Warwick’s intervention in their Driver Awareness Scheme, which has been used by almost 1000 speed offenders. In addition, Gloucestershire Constabulary adopted the intervention for all their standard response level and advanced level courses, benefitting over 200 of the Force’s high-speed pursuit drivers. The change blindness research which underpins the intervention has been used in local road safety campaigns across the country, benefitting all age groups - from school pupils to older drivers. Leeds and Dudley local authorities, for example, have used the intervention in schools, educating thousands of secondary school pupils about road safety. Dudley have incorporated the intervention into their Driving Safer for Longer Course, aimed at older drivers, and Leeds have incorporated it into their social media campaign aimed at those who consider themselves to be good drivers.

The team’s research into the distraction of mobile phones is being used by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (ROSPA) as part of their campaign against distracted driving in an online fact-sheet used to form public opinion. In 2020, Dr Kunar presented the research at the ROSPA National Fleet & Road Safety Conference, increasing awareness at a national level about the dangers of inattention and distractions whilst driving.

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