Always an Interesting Question

Enforcement, education… or engineering. Which changes behavior most effectively?

This entry was posted on Thursday, August 27th, 2009 at 3:15 pm and is filed under Traffic safety. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

3 Responses to “Always an Interesting Question”

  1. Bossi Says:

    I’m a firm believer that motorists don’t *want* to drive poorly; we just encourage them to do so. Hence, I believe that any problem can be tackled through design.

    However… “effectively” is a loaded word: some problems could require utterly infeasible changes financially, politically, etc.

    I tend to think rather little of education… my opinion is that motorists have been given a license to operate a motor vehicle on public infrastructure, hence the State should be taking due precaution to ensure that their operators are properly trained in advance. That is: regular retesting & more comprehensive testing.

    Back to education: posters & videos might be politically-pleasing & easy to forward around… but I have yet to know anyone that’s actually stuck to vows not to text, drink, eat, smoke, etc. while driving… I can’t even get my own parents to stop talking on their mobile — they still leave me voicemail while they’re driving, despite my voicemail message which only says “If you are driving, hang up now. [BEEP]”

    Enforcement certainly works: spot enforcement keeps speeds down while the officer is there, though this is an incredibly short-term effect as speeds tend to pick up not long after the officer departs — unless it’s regular spot enforcement, but it’s expensive to keep labor on-site so frequently; and an officer can only write so many tickets; and then there’s the court dates…

    Spot automated enforcement may reduce speeds, but the effects tend to be localised — potentially creating as many issues as they address. Area automated enforcement, using sensors at the start and end of a segment to determine the average speed of a vehicle, has so far been turning up good results. These can actually have a negative cost or be cost-neutral, considering revenue generation… but of course the more negative that goes: the more political fallout there may be.

    So if you want “effective” in a sense of cost vs. benefit… I’m the most ardent believer in fixing through design, but enforcement could — by the numbers — be the winner. Hence why I’d love to see enforcement cameras have a non-profit business model & also return generated revenue to redesign & address the specific issues prompting enforcement. And “education” should replaced with “licensure” … it breaks the 3 E’s, but I think EEL sounds better, anyway.

  2. Crosius Says:

    Education doesn’t work when the students don’t pay attention and don’t want to learn. I still hear the same wildly inaccurate driving “rules” repeated in watercooler conversations that I heard first from fellow high-school students. Drivers don’t bother to find out the rules, and they get defensive if anyone suggests they might need to brush up on them. Instead, I tend to point out that passing a drivers-course can often knock insurance premiums down – people love a hint about saving money.

    Enforcement can start out as a good idea, but it frequently becomes an automated for-profit enterprise that actually encourages leaving bad design in place (eg: if we add chicanes to this road, people will stop speeding and our ticket revenue will dry up)

    My vote is for Engineering. Drivers can’t ignore it or avoid it and it’s never possible to “sneak” past it. It’s on-duty 100% of the time and has the biggest stick in the arsenal backing it up (the laws of physics).

  3. John Says:


    A driver who takes this seriously can go anywhere in the world– and on good roads, at higher speeds than what is now allowed. The proof is in the extra training that some professionals get, on our same roads.

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