Road Safety News

Safe Drive, Stay Alive - the debate continues

Tuesday 28th November 2017

Two fire and rescue road safety professionals have mounted a staunch defence of Safe Drive, Stay Alive and similar interventions, following comments made by panelists during ‘Question Time’ at the 2017 National Road Safety Conference earlier this month.

Question Time panelist Matt Staton, who heads up Cambridgeshire County Council’s road safety team, said that scaring young people is “completely the wrong approach”, adding that there is a “possibility of negative, unintended consequences”.

Shaun Helman, head of transport psychology at TRL, took a similar stance, calling on those delivering this style of intervention to “stop and re-evaluate what you are doing”.

However, Lesley Allen from Greater Manchester Fire & Rescue Service and Mark Taylor from Surrey Fire & Rescue Service, have taken issue with the panelists’ comments.

Lesley Allen and Mark Taylor are responsible for delivering Safe Drive Stay Alive (SDSA) in their respective areas, and work collaboratively to reach around 20,000 young drivers and passengers annually. Both have contributed to the discussion thread which has followed the news item covering the Question Time session at National Conference.

Lesley Allen is the project lead for the multi-agency Greater Manchester Safe Drive Stay Alive project (featured image), which is now in its’ fourth year. She said her team “do not use shock tactics” but rather “emotionally engaging stories that young people can relate to”.

She said she is “immensely proud of our achievements through developing and delivering Safe Drive Stay Alive”, stating that without the scheme 30,000 young people “would not have had a road safety input”.

Mark Taylor was a member of the team that established Safe Drive, Stay Alive in Surrey in 2005.

He says Surrey SDSA “aims to positively influence the attitudes and driving behaviours of young people through helping them to make informed choices” which are “based on the emotional, moral, physical and legal realities and impacts of road traffic collisions”.

Mark adds that the scheme aims to achieve this “without lecturing, the use of sensationalism, shock or gore”.

In March 2015 the partners jointly commissioned an independent evaluation of the November 2015/16 SDSA performances in both areas. 

Lesley Allen says the evaluation, undertaken by Road Safety Analysis, “showed where we were having a lasting positive influence on the attitudes and intended behaviours of young drivers and passengers, and also where we needed to focus our efforts on more”. 

She added that the both parties “have learned from and further developed our schemes through reflecting on this independent evaluation”. 

Lesley cites examples including the introduction of “more relatable consequences for young people into our stories, and developing follow-up resources to encourage young people to explore the issues raised at the performance for them as individuals and with their friends”.

Mark Taylor said the evaluation recommendations have been “a focus for development”, and acknowledged that the performances alone “cannot address all the issues around safe driving of young drivers, their attitudes and those of their passengers”. 

However, he adds that the “performances are, firstly, doing no harm and, secondly, there is statistically significant evidence that they are having some positive impact - up to 12 months post attendance”.

The ‘Safe Drive, Stay Alive’ debate starts at 32 mins 19 secs into the Question Time video.

Category: Young drivers.


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Surely, the trouble with SDSA is that it does little or nothing to explain WHY young drivers are particularly at risk - something which I am quite sure they are capable of understanding. One simply cannot demand that they "drive safely" and assure them that they'll be OK, when the problem lies in their underdeveloped brains. If a young driver "causes" an accident - surely the blame lies with a society that has still do adopt proven interventions, such as Graduated Driver Licensing, and, of course, Intelligent Speed Assistance. But we don't really seem to care about our young, do we?
Andrew Fraser, STIRLING

Agree (2) | Disagree (6)

I think females are more likely to be receptive to these sorts of messages anyway, whereas males may be harder to get through to - macho arrogance and ego possibly? Generally, resistance to behavioural change on the road messages is not necessarily limited to younger drivers either - after all, nobody likes to be told they're doing something wrong, or even being 'told-off' by someone in authority, no matter how old we are.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (4) | Disagree (1)

This is the kind of feedback we receive often, we do not deliver an SDSA that is hard hitting or sensationalise, we praise our young drivers, evaluate every event every year to ensure that if we do receive any negative feedback we can deal with it and evolve. Not all SAFE DRIVE STAY ALIVE EVENTS are about traumatising young drivers.

My daughter attends Collyers College in Horsham and I cannot tell you how impactful this talk has been on her. She passed her driving test in August of this year and, even though she is reasonably sensible, like any parent I worry every single time she goes out on the road, particularly if it is dark, bad driving conditions or she has been to a party.

However, this talk has made such a massive impression on her (and her friends) that I don’t think I ever need worry again! I really am so grateful as we can all nag them as parents but it’s much better coming from someone else.

She talked a lot about the chap who had killed someone due to drink driving; apparently that was very emotional – and also the parent who had lost a child to drink driving, equally emotional and hard-hitting and on the whole I think it opened her eyes to what can happen if you drive dangerously and the impact it has on so many lives.

What a shame we can’t spread the net wider and capture all the other generations of drivers too!

Kind regards,

Jackie Boyle West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service

Agree (5) | Disagree (2)

I agree completely Ian. Students leave SDSA with the intention of keeping themselves and their friends safe. A well thought out follow-up resource with content developed by Dr Fiona Fylan has been produced and is used in Greater Manchester and Surrey colleges to encourage students to explore what this means for them as individuals, and to practice the skills necessary to move their good intentions into positive action in the long term. The whole content is positively framed and builds on their positive perceptions of friendship qualities, and how to be good friends when in a car. In fact, our speakers at the performances also focus on positive attitudes and friendships. While I agree this is a healthy debate, it's clear that some of the people who have posted are still under the misconception that SDSA focusses on blood, guts and gore etc. If that's the case in some areas I'm not aware of it, as the schemes I have seen are all carefully considered in the use of shock elements, and much more focussed on giving information / story telling that gives positive "take home" messages and recognises that young people are generally good at making the right choices when they have relevant information.
Lesley, Greater Manchester

Agree (11) | Disagree (0)

There is a fundamental lack of understanding of what SDSA sets out to achieve.

Firstly, no 60-90 minute presentation on any subject is going to provide enough education to make a significant change to someone’s knowledge of a subject over a long period of time. For education to be successful there needs to be a programme in place to re-enforce the messages and expand the subject further. Only then as students attend each lesson will they remember more and more and build a sound base of knowledge.

Secondly, hard-hitting doesn’t work? This is an interesting subject, because if hard hitting doesn’t work, then why do schools attend SDSA? Schools do not have to attend, but they repeatedly do. So why is that? Why, when set up in area can SDSA engage with around 90-100% of schools? Why can it reach out and engage with these schools when other road safety initiatives are struggling to gain access? Some of the teaching staff attending have put over 2,000 of their own students through the shows to date. Those teachers have attended for 10+ years and have seen the after effects on their students. They go back to school and have groups discussions on what they have seen, they get great feedback and never have concern over what they have been taught. If hard hitting doesn’t work and is damaging students, why don’t the very people that know their students better than us with far more experience of young people raise it as a concern? A recent SDSA survey of 120+ teachers has shown that 100% strongly agree or agree that the hard hitting nature is right for their students, the content is right and that they believe it will have a positive effect on their students behaviour. Not even one teacher has but down a negative score or even a neutral score. The most common comment is “can we have a follow up”.

Thirdly, Feedback from students pre and post questionnaires have shown that there has been an immediate effect on their attitude to driving. In addition, volunteered comments and feedback has all been positive.

SDSA is a valuable tool for the road safety industry, it should not be seen as competition to other schemes or theories. SDSA is successful at gaining access to young people, it is successful at having an immediate effect on their attitude. But its biggest success and the one that road safety should recognise is that it introduces young people to road safety in a way that makes them pay attention. SDSA allows all the agencies involved in road safety education greater access to schools and a greater acceptance from the young people of the messages we want to convey. After SDSA young people will be more receptive to future road safety messages and information from all parties involved in road safety education.

SDSA does not set out to be the one stop shop, a variety of education approaches is required. SDSA sets out to introduce the subject of road safety in a way that makes young people understand the risks to them and open to further education from all of us. It’s a 60 minute starting point, it gets us access to the young people, it should be used as an introduction and followed by other road safety education programmes and messages.
Ian Hopkins, Wiltshire

Agree (25) | Disagree (2)

I have seen a number of these presentations and they can differ enormously within the same organisation through the personnel who deliver them. A dedicated SFSA team is likely to be a luxury in terms of staffing and budgets these days so we need to ensure whoever delivers the events is trained and understands the purposes, the psychology and the possible pitfalls. If the casualty and crash data identifies that emergency services are called out to rescue and cut out victims then perhaps to audiences within that community it will have merit if done well. They have their place within the arsenal of road safety awareness but should be used carefully. Taking young drivers through the journey of post crash experiences allied with the costs, financial, physical and emotional is one way of giving the audience the experiences safely and to explain it replicate real situations is essential. I have received requests in the past from the LFBS to simulate a rescue at Trafalgar Square. As the data does not support this and it would really be entertaining the tourists I have declined.
Peter City of Westminster

Agree (4) | Disagree (1)

Does anybody have a lesson plan highlighting the learning outcomes and BCT's that are most effective and how they should be used? If we had an approved lesson plan structure and we all worked the same way we could measure the effectiveness easier.
Laressa Robinson Dorset Police

Agree (3) | Disagree (0)

We seek to achieve everything you mentioned in the last paragraph of your most recent post in the tutorial workshop that Pass Plus Cymru in Wales adds to the standard Pass Plus scheme. It is not a case of either or. As I said in the post on the original article: Shock tactics do work but context is key. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water by trashing all road safety interventions that includes a shock element.

The 'Cow’ and other graphic short crash films about driver distraction, speeding, seatbelts etc. are received well by the audience, despite the shock element as the feedback confirms and the presenter engages and steers the discussion towards positive outcomes to encourage a change to behaviour.
Pat, Wales

Agree (20) | Disagree (3)

@ Steve Notes - they take their charges to these productions because they themselves believe that blood, gore, and emotional spilling of the guts work, they can tick a box that says that road safety input has been delivered, they are unaware of the research that says that hard-hitting doesn't work, and often because there is as yet no alternative education option available to them.

The traditional view that Police and Fire Services have taken is that if these youngsters had seen what they have seen, experienced what they have experienced, then they wouldn't drive badly. If you have already reached the viewpoint that bad driving is dangerous (and the majority will have), then shock and horror input serves to reinforce how sensible you are (and it may also serve to make you scared about the prospect of driving), but it doesn't change the behaviour of those we want to get at. They think that it will not happen to them, and the more blood and gore one uses to make a point, the firmer their view becomes.

We need at the very least to give the approach of normalising good behaviour a chance. We want the majority to feel confident to challenge the behaviour of the minority. If we do have some of the minority who drive badly in our presentations, we have influence over them for a very short period of time and we are unlikely to get them to have a light bulb moment of change. If we can empower the majority, with whom they spend a lot of their time, we can get them to chip away at their attitudes and win them around. We want the majority to feel confident about how they can manage their risk and not make them approach driving with trepidation.
David, Suffolk

Agree (14) | Disagree (8)

....I also wonder why 100s of teachers take their students to these productions every year if their 'duty of care' for them is being questioned.
Steve Notes

Agree (13) | Disagree (6)

Mark Taylor eventually comes out with his 'performances are, firstly, doing no harm' remark. On what does he base that statement?

There are people out there whose status within their peer group revolves around their risk-taking behaviour when behind the wheel. When material about just how risky their behaviour can prove to be is shown to them and their peers, it can bring about a deterioration in their driving in order to heighten their status. To say that what you are doing can cause no harm is questionable.

When I witness these interventions and the powerful emotional responses they are capable of creating in an audience, I wonder why the Fire Services persist in delivering them, given that it is always the girls who cry while the problem drivers are usually the males. I have even heard Fire Service personnel remark that if the hard-hitting material has been shown to be ineffective, then that is simply because it hasn't been sufficiently hard-hitting. How hard-hitting must it be when these young people can visit Youtube and see road users actually losing their lives without it changing their behaviour?

We need to rethink our approach to hard-hitting input.
David, Suffolk

Agree (13) | Disagree (13)

How high handed is the official in charge of Cambridge’s road safety particularly as his county’s road casualty stats have steadily worsened over some years so that the something that he is doing is evidently failing to be effective so why not keep an open mind and go to view an SDSA in the several areas of England where it has taken hold; perhaps do some random night shifts with those called to clean up and investigate, and report to victims’ families, in the aftermath of fatal or serious injury collisions, thus, acquiring rounded knowledge and understanding by which to judge.

The killed and maimed on our roads are not the acceptable collateral damage of a fast-moving economy. They are mainly caused by dangerous driver attitudes and habits such as speeding, racing, drink/drug driving, mobile use.

SDSA propounds the hard-hitting but constructive road safety message that there are duties of care and responsibilities to self and others on the road, not just the right and joys of licence and that the consequences of driving a lethal weapon dangerously, and unfocussed, are unmystifyingly life threatening. How softly do those in charge of our wellbeing want to play the effective road safety message to 17-24-year olds who are the most vulnerable?

SDSA is the nearest experience to a road crash any parent would wish their child to have. It is a powerful forewarning for those that have ears. The reaction maybe of shock and tears. Better that they should flow now.

Such an initiative is in the public interest and should have our Councils’ commitment and political will.
Giulietta Galli-Atkinson, Rugby

Agree (17) | Disagree (14)

Unless a drop in road deaths has followed a corresponding decline in collisions generally, one can't say this is down to a collision prevention initiative, as you can't influence drivers to have non-fatal collisions. A drop in road deaths is more likely due to better protection for vehicle occupants and the people they hit, better on-scene life saving techniques and obviously the expertise of those in A & luck. (Are you sure about that reported drop of 20 to 5 road deaths Steve?)
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (7) | Disagree (0)

Having been part of the presentation by the marketing and comms official from the DfT, she stated on her video that the figures of road deaths per day have dropped from 20 to 5 on average over the year. If the group honestly thinks that shock tactics have not had a role to play in that remarkable drop then I am truly shocked myself. As for the comment ref 'big red shiny trucks and Hi Viz jackets not going to fires anymore', I will need to keep my thoughts to myself.
Steve Notes

Agree (16) | Disagree (2)

I'm neutral on whether shock tactics sway people enough to alter their behaviour - in any walk of life - whether it be on the road, or promoting a healthy lifestyle and I don't have a problem with the authorities trying these methods, however I do feel that the effect wears off rather too quickly and whilst the recipient can be caught up in the moment and no doubt resolve to change their behaviour for the better at the time, I don't think that mindset lasts very long! An example is when we have to slow down or stop for a serious crash on the M-way and where we can see the police, ambulances and fire service vehicles and no doubt some crashed vehicles. You would think that might have a sobering effect on passing drivers but what happens? - once they're past the scene of carnage they're off again..lane no.3 as soon as possible..70, 80, 90, 100 mph - what they've just seen is apparently all forgotten. Even people who have actually been in horrific crashes themselves don't feel the need to change or improve their behaviour - so what is it going to take?
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (8) | Disagree (1)

Firstly, I am really pleased that the question time session has prompted this lengthy debate on young driver interventions. I deliberately say young driver interventions as I think this needs to be considered wider than just Safe Drive Stay Alive and similar programmes as it is clear from the debate that, while many programmes use the same names, the interventions themselves can differ greatly and the discussion is relevant to other types of intervention too.

I would like to thank Mark and Leslie for putting this information together. I specifically challenged people about evaluation in my response to the question and you have responded with a comprehensive external evaluation. To quote the report it "has provided a unique insight into the efficacy of Safe Drive Stay Alive through the employment of large sample sizes; consistent monitoring over the long term; the use of a comparison group; and utilising an adolescent-based behaviour change model. Many evaluations of young and pre-driver education do not employ all or most of these elements." This type of approach needs to be replicated in other interventions.

However, I do still have some concerns about negative reactions, which are evident from the small selection of interviewees in the video. I do not believe an extreme emotional response (e.g. the girl who states she "cried most of the way through") is conducive to learning and would recommend considering evaluating whether the intervention increases nervousness or anxiety about driving?

I firmly believe that we don't need to frame road safety interventions in such a negative context - after all, we heard at the conference that it is now only 1 in 10 or 11 drivers that is involved in a collision in the first 6 months after their test. Iain Watson's presentation about reframing the intervention to focus on supporting the majority of students that are doing the right thing was of specific interest to me and I would like to see the longer-term outcomes of that kind of approach.

As I said at the outset of this comment, I am really pleased that this has encouraged rigorous debate as I don't think we are good enough at challenging ourselves and others in this profession. We shouldn't all agree on everything, but by debating, sharing, challenging and supporting each other we can all do our jobs better and I would encourage this type of debate to continue.
Matt Staton, Cambridgeshire

Agree (21) | Disagree (0)