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Giving road safety a ‘nudge’

Nudge theory has been a popular term since the publication of 'Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness' by Thaler and Sunstein in 2008. Nudge theory is focussed on influencing behaviour by understanding that people do not always make decisions rationally, but that instincts, mental short cuts and past experiences have a significant influence on the decisions they make.

This approach to influencing people’s behaviour has been gaining recognition over the past decade, particularly since the creation of the Behavioural Insights Team in 2010. This team was set up by the UK Government to make public services easier for citizens to use, improve outcomes, and enable people to make ‘better choices for themselves’.

These are clearly important ambitions, but how has this concept actually been used to improve our day-to-day lives?

One use of nudging is to encourage safer driving. This can be through speed activated signs such as those used in our installation to reduce speeding in Fairlie, or more ambiguous signage such as life-sized replicas of police officers in Preston.

Painting the surface of the road is another, less obvious, nudge to encourage safer driving. Lines have been painted on the road in Chicago that get closer to each other in approach to a bend in the road. This gives drivers the illusion that they are travelling faster than they actually are and resulted in 36% fewer crashes in the 6 months after the lines were painted. Similarly, Transport Authorities in India have been using optical illusions of roadblocks to slow the traffic.

Illusion Road Block4

In a similar vein we have used visual guidance on the road to increase safety. We used our IRS2 intelligent hardwired road studs to increase driver awareness and improve lane discipline on and off the award winning Sheriffhall roundabout in Edinburgh. This is a six-arm roundabout that connects several important routes, including the A7 and the A720, and handles upwards of 42,000 vehicles a day.

Inadvertent lane drifting was causing issues with the safe use of this roundabout. Working closely with Transport Scotland and other partners, we installed IRS2 intelligent hardwired studs along the lane markings of the roundabout and synchronised them with the traffic lights that control entry to the roundabout. This means that when the lights turn to green, the associated studs light up and guide drivers safely around the roundabout.

This scheme has been found to increase driver awareness and improve lane discipline and has recently been awarded both the CIHT John Smart Road Safety Award at the Chartered Institution of Highways & Transportation annual awards on Thursday 9 June 2016, and the Excellence in Technology and Innovation Award at the 14th annual Scottish Transport Awards held on Thursday 16 June 2016. Such recognition at national level is welcome support and validation for our commitment to making journeys safer.

If you have any locations where you need to give road users a nudge to help prevent future accidents, please get in contact to see if we can work together on a scheme to encourage safer driving on your road network.

Author: Michelle C |Date Published: June 2016

Links: Route Safety News / Commentary

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