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Safety culture: It’s all about attitude

11 July 2022

NOW IN its seventh year, IAM RoadSmart’s Driving Safety Culture Survey is one of the biggest surveys of its type carried out in the UK, and the results always make for eye-opening reading. Rebecca Ashton takes a look.

The survey gathers data on the opinions, beliefs and behaviours of drivers in the UK, identifying the issues that they perceive to be having the greatest impact on road safety. Comparing the results over time, we can build a picture of how the landscape of road safety shifts, and identify the ongoing issues embedded in the minds of road users.

A continuing theme this year was potholes, with 79% of drivers viewing them as being a bigger problem now than they were three years ago. Roadworks, road closures and congestion were also thought by at least two thirds of drivers to be worsening. Such issues are of immediate relevance to business drivers and their employers, all having an impact on costs through vehicle damage and lost productivity.

Our survey also asked drivers to give their opinions on the level of threat posed by certain behaviours of other drivers. Unsurprisingly, texting, emailing or using social media while driving, and drink- and drug-driving came out top, with more than 90% of respondents citing them as significant threats to safety. Drivers speeding in residential areas, ignoring red lights, talking on mobile phones or driving while tired were considered significant threats by at least 80% of respondents in each case.

From attitude to action

Why do we carry out this survey? Why ask drivers’ opinions about the issues affecting road safety? After all, government data tells us a huge amount about collisions, where they happen and who was involved. We can refer to police statistics on speeding and other offences, and to a wealth of industry data. Surely that kind of information is what identifies the ‘real’ issues?

The reason is attitude. An individual driver’s attitude when they get behind the wheel can have a significant impact on their behaviour on that particular journey. Where the wider road safety picture is concerned, there are attitudes that run much deeper, becoming widespread throughout a population, influencing road users’ behaviour in general. How people perceive road conditions, the behaviour of others and levels of respect for the law, all have an influence on drivers’ own attitudes, affecting how safe they feel and having knock-on effects for their own actions.

That’s why we call it a safety culture survey. Beliefs and opinions influence culture; culture is reflected in attitudes and behaviour. Culture develops over time, hence our comparisons of drivers’ concerns from one year to the next is an important feature of the exercise. As an organisation whose focus is the improvement of driver behaviour, examining the attitudes that influence their behaviour is crucial. The data informs our research projects, lobbying activity, and our communications with other individuals and organisations, helping to promote a wider understanding of what really makes drivers tick.

Cultivating a shift in attitudes

Over time we have seen huge shifts in public attitude, brought about by public awareness campaigns, that have led to things like seatbelts becoming de rigueur and drink-driving becoming culturally unacceptable within a relatively short time. The same can be made to happen within a business and its safety culture, through a focus on safety in your internal communications. Engaging with your employees, finding out about their areas of likely to make them feel listened to and involved in the process. By taking such an approach, you can build a culture that drivers feel part of, improve their confidence that their safety concerns are a priority and support them in subscribing to safer, healthier behaviours.

Employers often believe their drivers will have a negative attitude towards safe driving, and that they will find risk assessments and training courses onerous or fail to acknowledge the benefits. If that’s how thing seem in your business, you might be encouraged to hear that our survey showed high levels of support for a range of proposed new road safety laws and road user initiatives. It also showed, consistent with previous years, that nearly two thirds of drivers support the idea of advanced driving tuition and testing, so engaging your drivers in a culture of safer driving could be much easier than you think.

Click here to download a copy of our Driving Safety Culture Report 2021

Rebecca Ashton is head of policy & research at IAM RoadSmart. For more information, visit www.iamroadsmart.com