Road Safety News

Simple intervention leads to improved ‘Street Harmony’

Tuesday 11th October 2016

A simple behavioural intervention designed to reduce tension between cyclists and motorists resulted in a marked decrease in the number of cyclists jumping red lights at the junctions where it was trialled.

The intervention was created by The Behavioural Architects (TBA), a research and insight consultancy, in an attempt to tackle the ‘veritable war’ between cyclists and motorists on London’s streets.

TBA says the conflict is fuelled by motorists’ belief that most cyclists have no regard for the rules of the road. However, TBA suggests there is a considerable gap between motorists’ perceptions of the extent of bad cycling behaviour and actual bad cycling behaviour.

The consultancy references a 2013 YouGov study in which 69% of respondents in London said it is ‘common’ for cyclists to jump red lights. However, TBA points to other research which suggests only around 7-12% of London’s cyclists actually jump red lights.  

After conducting qualitative research on the behaviour of both cyclists and motorists, and forming behavioural hypotheses on how to correct these, TBA designed a simple behavioural experiment at two high traffic junctions in London.

The experiment took the form of a series of small posters that communicated to motorists that only a minority of cyclists jump red lights.

The posters were deployed at two high traffic junctions in London, and TBA monitored the number of cyclists jumping red lights against a previous control (poster free) period, and the impact on motorists’ perceptions.

TBA says the intervention successfully decreased rush hour jumping behaviour by 21.4% and 14.5% respectively across the two junctions.

In a press release about the intervention TBA says: “These results reveal the potential power of a simple, inexpensive intervention based on insights from behavioural science. Our qualitative research further indicated the message challenged motorists’ existing inaccurate beliefs head on.

“Overall, the results of this pilot research suggest further explorations are worthwhile. If such a small study was able to promote some level of ‘Street Harmony’, a large-scale campaign may have the power to end motorist-cyclist tensions on the road altogether.”



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in my experience the majority of cyclists who jump lights do so because they are unable to hold themselves up at the junction because their feet are locked to the pedals by some kind of device that racers use in events such as the Tour De France. I like soccer, does that mean I can wear football boots while driving on the road because I think I am Ronaldo or something?
Rob Reeks Preston

Agree (1) | Disagree (1)

I see what you are aiming at Donal. However, in the article the figures used are 53,064 drivers between 7am - 10am, of that 1,296 failed to stop. That is 2.4% failed to stop, 97.6% did stop. I think ‘most drivers’ are covered by the 97%. This is a good idea to address wrong perceptions of behaviour. It shouldn't be used as a basis for 'you’re picking on us, what about them' type views. Drivers need to accept that cycling as a mode of transport is now here to stay this programme will go some way to helping that acceptance.
Tony, London

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Yes, true but don't forget that the report also says there are 18 times more motorists than cyclists. So that makes the number not quite so significant, statistically speaking. Everything in context.
Pat, Wales

Agree (5) | Disagree (1)

This is classic Nudge! (Remember HMRC's success by adding the line "most people pay their taxes on time" to tax letters?) We should be exploring ways to use more Nudge in road safety.
David Davies, London

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Based on statistics from Dublin Ireland, it would seem the assumption that "most drivers stop at red lights" may be flawed. The Irish police force (An Garda Síochána) caught 24 times more Dublin motorists than cyclists breaking red lights during the first 9 months of the year.

original article:
Donal - Dublin, Ireland

Agree (3) | Disagree (1)

A good example of something cheap and simple to add to the safety tool kit. Yes I agree about the need to also think about motorist attitudes - the next behavioural design challenge? We should also bear in mind the therapeutic principle that the sheer act of committing to spending money on such a product flags up the need for safety to both the cyclist and other road users.
Kris Beuret, Leicester

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Bob - is this not a case of 'most drivers wait at red lights'? I'm sure your experiences are tainted as much as the 69% of respondents mentioned above. after all the highway code does say - AMBER means ‘Stop’ at the stop line. You may go on only if the AMBER appears after you have crossed the stop line or are so close to it that to pull up might cause an accident.
Tony - London

Agree (8) | Disagree (1)

Talk about the pot a calling the kettle black. What we definitely need is something to remind drivers, they are the ones that as yet have not gone over to bicycles. What we want is something to change their attitude of failing to stop on the amber light as required by law. They drive through without hesitation of thought, deliberately breaking the law by continuing through lights at increased speeds in order to do so. I can only presume that they mistakenly believe that they can go through amber lights with immunity before the red one. That is and never has been the case. My journeys and I am sure that of others have been made more dangerous and frustrating by this now common practice.
Bob Craven Lancs

Agree (9) | Disagree (11)

A great simple and effective short term idea. But beware when extrapolating the results and best not to expect such good results in a large scale campaign, nor over longer periods.

p.s. did the intervention run long enough to see if there was any drop-off when road users became familiar and "comfortable" with the posters? - after, say, 4 weeks?
Pat, Wales

Agree (17) | Disagree (0)