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Five Better Ways to Do Traffic Safety Education Beyond PSAs

Too often, road user "education" in the U.S. looks like pedestrian-shaming PSAs, flimsy driver's ed courses, and lame signs on the side of the road. Streetsblog readers say there's a better way.

LINYperson615, CC|

This sign might not slow many drivers down — but other educational approaches will. Photo: LINYperson615, CC

Ask just about any transportation agency, and it’ll say that “education” is a core tool to help end traffic deaths and serious injuries on U.S. roads. But what does that word really mean — and what could it mean, beyond the dominant model of issuing public service announcements shaming pedestrians for not wearing neon at night and erecting billboards “educating” motorists on the importance of driving safely on roads that are designed to encourage them to do the opposite?We asked Streetsblog readers about the types of education they believe would make the biggest difference in our cities; here are their top five answers:

1. Self-educating infrastructure

Transportation officials talk a lot about “self-enforcing infrastructure,” or road design features that cause immediate, physical consequences for dangerous driving — think a damaged muffler from striking a bollard on a sidewalk — rather than the threat of a possible consequence, like a ticket from a nearby police officer.Advocates point out that those infrastructures are self-educating, too, by sending a virtually unmissable message to drivers of how they’re supposed to behave.
When new road design elements crop up on community roads, though, sometimes it’s important for road users to get little on-road education on how all those funny-looking chicanes or bump outs will improve everyone’s safety. DOTs can also use educational signage to illustrate what future changes are planned for the road, and how to reach out to their local transportation officials to request similar interventions in other neighborhoods.

2. Policymaker education

Of course, self-enforcing infrastructure isn’t very likely to get installed if policymakers don’t want it — or don’t understand why it’s so much better at preventing “human error” than just asking drivers to be safe. That’s why the Vision Zero Network has been emphasizing “upstream education” about the nuances of the Safe Systems approach for people who design our roads, vehicles, and traffic policies, rather than “downstream education” for the people who follow the cues of the built environment after those officials put it in place.
One particularly important element of that education is to make sure that decision makers understand what life is like for their constituents outside cars, which is why educational campaigns like America Walks’ upcoming Week Without Driving challenge is so important. Some advocates say all drivers should be encouraged to complete a similar challenge.

3. Next-level driver’s ed

Of course, immersive experiential education might seem like a tall order given the sorry state of good-old fashioned driver’s ed in the U.S. In some states, basic traffic education isn’t even required for motorists to secure or renew their licenses — while in others, that coursework is a bit of a joke, at least when compared to the much more difficult classes that Europeans must take.Some advocates, though, question whether even the best driver’s ed models are working as well as we think. One meta-analysis of driver’s education research around the world recently concluded that there’s “no evidence that driver education is an effective approach to reducing crashes or injuries,” even as it does improve “secondary outcomes, such as performance, self-perceived driving abilities … and even a small decrease in traffic offenses.”That doesn’t mean that nothing about driver’s ed is worth doing. Some advocates argue that strengthening the licensing tests and practice requirements would-be motorists must complete in addition to a classroom course could make a big difference — if only to delay the time it takes first-time teen drivers to get behind the wheel and give their still-developing brains time to catch up. Strong graduated licensing requirements could help with that, too, as could re-testing drivers at various points throughout their lives.
Others emphasize the importance of educating drivers on the experience of non-drivers, so they’ll have more empathy for vulnerable road users once they’re behind the wheel again. One Mexico City transit agency famously required its drivers to ride an exercise bike next to a close-passing bus for just that reason.

4. Next-level non-driver’s ed

Unfortunately, a lot of U.S. children don’t get much of any official road safety education until it’s time to get the keys — and if they do, it’s likely to send the problematic message that they’re more responsible for preventing their own deaths than the grown-ups behind the wheel or behind their local road designs.What if, instead, Americans of all ages had to take a class that would make them more likely to choose non-driving options — and to understand the structural reasons why they’re not already the default?Advocates pointed, particularly, to programs that train people of all ages and abilities to feel confident riding local bus routes, to experience the simulated joy of a neighborhood walk before a child attempts a real one, or to learn tips from veteran transportation cyclists in a supportive community setting. Some cities have even hosted courses to train sustainable transportation advocates to more effectively participate in local decisions.

5. Next-level PSAs (if you have to do one)

We certainly don’t blame advocates who think that the dominant approaches to traffic safety education in the U.S. are a waste of money and time at best and deeply offensive at worst. In a country where nearly 43,000 people died in traffic violence last year, sunny graphics that politely ask drivers to please slow down on roads that actively encourage deadly speeds are a wildly inadequate response, and it’s essential that we question why we spend a dime of taxpayer money on them when there’s so much work to be done.If a cheap run of posters is truly the only option, though, Streetsblog advocates say it’s critical that agencies focus their messaging on the road users causing the most harm — drivers — and educate them about the real impact of dangerous behaviors that they’ve been led to believe are harmless, like reaching deadly (and often perfectly legal) speeds. And nonprofit 20 Is Plenty stresses that we need to do so in thoughtful ways that target different segments of the population, since people of different genders aren’t always persuaded by the same messaging.
PSAs may also play a role in helping reframe and expand debates about traffic safety in general, like this French ad that highlights the connection between road deaths and toxic masculinity/Better yet: PSAs might emphasize the impact of not driving at all.
The post Five Better Ways To Do Traffic Safety Education Beyond PSAs appeared first on Streetsblog USA.

The post Five Better Ways to Do Traffic Safety Education Beyond PSAs appeared first on Streetsblog California.

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