South Yorkshire Safer Roads Partnership
20 Sep 2021

Over the years I have worked in a number of roles that have been about trying to win hearts and minds, in other words to change people’s attitudes and behaviours towards a certain activity.

In the 90s I was a cycling officer, as the National Cycle Network was being introduced in South Yorkshire, working with the local authority and local cycle groups to try and encourage more people to get on a bike and try cycling. In the 2000s I worked on a climate change project in the Dearne Valley, trying to encourage individuals, communities and business to do their bit for the environment and adopt more sustainable practices.

Today, as part of the Safer Roads activity, my role is still about tackling mindsets and changing how people act as a result, this time by asking road users to look out for each other, helping to keep us all safer on the roads.

Whatever the agenda, winning the hearts and minds of the community can be a hard thing to do. Sometimes it feels like trying to turn around a tanker, attempting to mobilise a community effort and change long established cultures. It’s not something that happens quickly and we can become frustrated at how painfully slow progress can be at times.

It’s almost 55 years since the Department for Transport introduced the maximum legal drink drive limit. That’s over 50 years of drink drive campaigning aimed at changing our attitudes. The majority of people now feel that this is not acceptable to drink and drive, because the danger and consequences if something goes wrong are so great. Half a century of action for this activity to be seen by the public as anti social. 

Yet there are so many other road safety related actions that still haven’t been accepted by the population-at-large as being similarly anti social. Many people still think it’s OK to speed, or use a mobile phone while driving, or take drugs and drive, as evidenced by the numbers who are prepared to risk doing just that on a daily basis. Being caught speeding should not be seen as an inevitability or an occupational hazard of driving. The laws were introduced for a reason, to keep road users safer. And they are being monitored and enforced for that same reason.

Through the Safer Roads Partnership we and our partners employ a series of different types of measures to address road safety and encourage people to do the right thing on the roads. The first step is to educate and train road users in the safest ways to use our roads and co-exist with other road users. Mandatory training is required for drivers and motorcycle riders before they can drive independently or ride on the road. But other road users still need some basic knowledge and skills. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the Highway Code is a book for all road users, not just learner drivers. And with some significant revisions being made to help pedestrians and cyclists, it’s time we all took another look and reminded ourselves of what it means for the different types of road user we might be in the course of a week.

Local authorities can provide physical measures on the road network, such as traffic calming to make vehicles slow down or facilities to help pedestrians and cyclists. They can also introduce speed limits and traffic regulations which, if followed by the public, will help to reduce collisions and their impact. But when drivers fail to stick to the rules, that’s when the Police have to step in to enforce the laws and encourage greater compliance amongst the travelling public.

The work we do around raising awareness and promoting safer roads use, can’t change someone else’s mind or their habits. The harder we might try, the more resistance people put up in the face of our efforts. People have to come to their own conclusion that it’s time to change and the events that trigger this could be diverse; from getting a speeding ticket, to being involved in a collision, from being concerned about the safety of their children on the way to school or being afraid to walk or cycle in their community because of traffic conditions. We want people to be their best self behind the wheel, but we can’t do that for them. Everyone has to accept responsibility for the safety of themselves and others when out on the roads. But our collective actions will help to make a real difference.

Personal experiences will make us re-evaluate our views and beliefs and can be a catalyst for starting the conversation with others. When you’re ready, we are here to listen, to inform and advise. The influence that the Safer Roads Partnership can exert will only reach so far. Funding and staff are in short supply. Local authorities can’t traffic calm every residential street, prevent parking outside every school or bypass towns and villages with new roads. The Police can’t be on every street stopping speeding drivers or those who are drug driving or using a mobile phone behind the wheel. There aren’t enough road safety officers for us to visit every school and speak to every child about road safety.

We need you to help us, to be our road safety advocates, to stick to the rules of the road and look out for others and to encourage your friends and family to do the same. With your help we can start to turn that tanker around and win people’s hearts and minds. Only by us all working together can we hope to make a difference, reduce the risk and improve safety for all road users on our streets.

Until next time, stay safe,