Road Safety News

New campaign extols the virtues of ‘The Nan Effect’

Tuesday 21st April 2015

The Birmingham Road Safety Partnership has launched a new campaign which urges young people to drive as they would if their nan or an older relative was in the car with them.

The campaign, called The Nan Effect, is based on the premise people are better drivers when they have elderly people as passengers in the car.  The main element of the campaign is a viral film, backed by a radio and bus-back campaign. 

The Birmingham Road Safety Partnership’s website says: “Road safety experts and psychologists studying driving behaviours have known about the ‘Nan Effect’ for many years – put simply, we are ALL better drivers when we have elder ‘peer’ relatives in the car with us, but it is an especially positive influence on young-driver behaviours.

“Unfortunately we can’t make it a legal requirement for nans to be present on all car journeys, but we hope this video delivers a serious message about poor driving behaviours in an appealing manner.”


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The makers missed an opportunity to demonstrate some considerate driving and sensible positioning - at 1:28, it shows the two vehicles emerging - at the same time - from a side road to go left and right respectively, instead of one holding back to allow the other a clear view and then moving forward after the other has moved off. Drivers/riders on the main road can then see there are two vehicles waiting, not, at first glance, just the one (obscuring the other). I know it's not the point of the video, but it's a common everyday scenario that is rarely executed properly.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

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Ian's comment "In many ways you become expert by being able to identify the clues to a situation early and then having a rehearsed solution easily at hand" is absolutely spot on. What happens in the real world though is that the rehearsal (practice) phase is rarely completed to a sufficient level so that the task becomes automatic. This is in large part due to the students getting the idea that they have been taught 'skills' when in fact they have been taught nothing of the sort. What they are being taught are very basic ideas that need to be taken away and then practiced so that they can be turned into skills which can then be actioned when the need arises. The whole point of training in my view is that the student should be left in no doubt as to how unskilled they actually are and that the training they have just undertaken is going to be worthless to them unless they practice.

What happens though is that once released into the real world the student only gets to practice in the situations to which they are exposed which essentially means they get plenty of practice in normal situations and precious little in abnormal situations. Being as it's going to be the abnormal situations that are going to get them we have to doubt their abilities when things suddenly go wrong.

In the video we have to hope that a student will practice driving with a virtual ‘Nan’, but human beings rarely take on the significant cognitive strain of working with imaginary situations when they are concurrently managing real ones. People do drive differently (not necessarily better) when they have their Mum or their Grandma in the car with them to when they are alone, but the time spent in each situation will determine their view of what is normal and what is abnormal. Actually taking Granny out in the car is for most people a completely abnormal experience and that gives them the opportunity to practice managing that abnormal situation. Remove Granny however and the abnormality disappears along with any opportunity to practice managing it.
Duncan MacKillop. No surprise - No accident.

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That’s an interesting article about the report – have you read the report itself? I’ve not but the article generates a number of questions which I suspect only the report itself answers, so if you have the source material perhaps you can help with these.

The article suggests the study looked at the teen behaviour when the driver was alone; in the presence of peers; in the presence of a parent. It notes changes in risk taking when in the presence of peers; enhanced self-reward when alone; diminished self-reward when the parent is present. The latter also appears to have influenced behaviour – in this case a reduction in risk taking behaviours.

The study lead is quoted as saying “A parent's presence is actually changing the way the adolescent is reasoning and thinking about risk -- and this increases their safe behavior.” From this you appear to have extrapolated that the observed change can ONLY take place in the presence of the parent. The article, and study lead’s quote, does not say this but the report might – can you let us know if this is indeed the case. Thanks.

Because if what you have said is true it has a number of serious implications for this and many other sectors. Athletes, for example, may no longer be able to rely on visualising victory to help increase their chances of a win. Only the act of winning would do that and that could be something of a game changer. Literally. And in areas of public health to give another example, where again only the experience of being healthy could conceivably motivate people to change behaviours that damage their health.

My observation of studies like this is that they can be invaluable in observing what is happening physiologically and, consequently, lay down the challenge for related but separate disciplines like behavioural psychology to come up with ways of overcoming, or exploiting, the physical. For example, developing techniques that help replicate the effect of the parent’s presence could be a way of unlocking enhanced self-control. Some behavioural change techniques that choose to utilise principles of delayed gratification may do this.

I also noticed that you said the Nan effect was ‘sadly’ only when Nan/parent was in the car? And you found the article very interesting. Did you really mean sadly - and did you mean interesting but of little practical worth? I think you have said previously “It is a common misconception that it is errant 'behaviour' that brings about road transport collisions” – so there may not be much to learn from this after all?
Jeremy, Devon

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Once someone has the skills needed to complete a task a trainer should always be looking to encourage them to consider how they will apply these skills in other situations. In this way the driver is able to ‘rehearse’ that situation enabling them to be better prepared for a similar ‘real’ situation. Whilst it may not provide a perfect solution it provides them with a start point that can be adapted. In many ways you become expert by being able to identify the clues to a situation early and then having a rehearsed solution easily at hand.
Ian Edwards Doncaster

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Multiply the 'Nan' effect by 56 (the number of seats on an RT bus) and you have the basis that London Transport USED to use for driver training.
Derek Reynolds, Salop.

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Mr Edwards is pointing out a valid, but little used mental trick called a pre-mortem or counterfactual thinking before the event. It is a very wise idea to do such a thing and top-end experts will indeed do this, but it is only the fact that they are experts that allows them to do it.

In the case of our learner drivers, difficult situations are only difficult because they haven't been experienced before or the circumstances in which they occur are unusual. Without considerable amounts of training and practice in the management of difficult situations in unusual circumstances the learner hasn’t really got anything solid to base their pre-mortem on. Driving at night in the snow might be a difficult situation in unusual circumstances, but how would anybody mentally practice for that if they had never experienced it? In the absence of any simulators all that we can hope for is that learners will quickly learn to manage normal situations in the usual circumstances as best as they can.
Duncan MacKillop. No surprise - No accident.

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Duncan - you say:
"The idea that you can replicate a behaviour without replicating the situation or circumstance in which it actually occurs is a bit of a non-starter."

Is that really true?

At the Young Driver Focus conference last week Ian Edwards, one of the speakers who is an expert in driver training, said that learner drivers should be encouraged to think about difficult situations they will encounter in the future (post-test) and rehearse them and develop a mental template or plan to cope with them and deliver a positive outcome.

Unless I'm mistaken, he appears to be saying the opposite to you?
Nick Rawlings, editor, Road Safety News

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There is indeed a 'Nan Effect', but sadly only when Nan (or Mum or Dad) is actually in the car! The idea that you can replicate a behaviour without replicating the situation or circumstance in which it actually occurs is a bit of a non-starter.

There was a very interesting article about this very subject that popped up the other day and it's well worth a read.
Duncan MacKillop. No surprise - No accident.

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Why isn't Nan wearing a seat belt in the back of the car? She tells the driver to wear his, but it is not obvious that she has hers on; perhaps she has it on underneath her shawl?
David, Suffolk

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Similar studies show that the same applies to fathers driving with their newborn baby on board. It is "like carrying a basket of eggs around" said one new father. However discussions at ante natal classes suggests that only works for the first born so the nan should work well especially with young drivers. Come the day when we can record Nans into sat navs. Making people laugh and smile can make difficult concepts and advice seem less threatening. Humour is a well known tool in propaganda. Well done it looks great.
Peter Westminster

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