Skip to main content

Research Repository

Advanced Search

Understanding public attitudes to road-user safety – literature review: final report road safety research report no. 112.

Musselwhite, Charles; Avineri, Erel; Fulcher, Eamon; Goodwin, Phil; Susilo, Yusak

Understanding public attitudes to road-user safety – literature review: final report road safety research report no. 112. Thumbnail


Charles Musselwhite

Erel Avineri

Eamon Fulcher

Phil Goodwin

Yusak Susilo


Context and scope:
– The literature reviewed in this report is primarily UK based and published post 2000.
– In total, 72 articles have been reviewed in-depth and represent a mixture of qualitative, quantitative and mixed methodology primary research and a variety of reviews (see Appendix 2).
– A wider definition of attitudes was incorporated to include a variety of psychosocial variables, such as social norms, risk, identity and impression management, pro-social behaviour, habit, thrill-seeking behaviour and personality,
– The review sought to include a variety of road users, especially those at most risk, including young (especially male) drivers, those who drive for work, motorcyclists, children, older people, black and minority ethnic (BME) groups and those from deprived areas.

Findings: Aberrant road-user behaviour:
– It is clear that the public know that driving behaviour is a major contributory factor in all accidents. However, there is the perception among individuals that it is ‘other’ drivers and ‘other pedestrians’, not themselves, that are the risk.
– Safety is a key concern for motorists, but safety concerns centre on the safety of other drivers rather than drivers’ own behaviour.
– What constitutes speeding is conceptualised differently for different drivers.
– Generally, drivers see speeding as dangerous and are aware of the link between speed and accidents.
– However, on closer inspection, knowledge of this link is not so clearly evident when drivers’ discuss and examine their own driving behaviour, and, despite advocating greater penalties for speeding, continue to speed themselves.
– Reasons for speeding linked to attitudes include: speeding because other drivers do so; perceiving the speed limit as too low; a belief that they will not be caught by the police for speeding; not knowing they were speeding; a belief that speeding is not that dangerous; and views that link speeding to positive connotations.
– Both driving too fast and too slow are linked to a perception of a dangerous driver. Driving at an appropriate speed is not seen as a quality of a good driver.
– Various personality traits are linked to poor driving behaviour, including sensation seeking, aggression and anger, a Type A personality, normlessness, intolerance, less empathy, impulsiveness, recklessness and mild social deviance.
– Drivers are not very good at assessing their own skill.
– It is suggested that further research in the area addresses in more depth the acceptability of speed, attitudes to risk and speeding, normative and peer influence on risk taking, changes over time, interaction between the psychosocial variables, a need to establish whether generic personality traits display similar behaviours across a range of activities or whether driving is unique, and how can self-assessment be improved.

Engineering solutions:
– Support for traffic-calming measures varies between the type of measure, with raised junctions and speed humps being most favourable. On the whole, the acceptability of speed humps has risen since 1991, but remains constant at around 50%. More sustained support is seen for 20 mph zones.
– Current in-vehicle technology is viewed positively in terms of increasing road-user safety.
– Future in-vehicle technology has some support, especially for information provision rather than systems that take-over driving behaviour.
– There are concerns that technology might make driving less safe, especially in terms of over reliance on the technology. In addition, the (perceived) safety and comfort of modern cars is felt to encourage speeding behaviour.
– Technological solutions are viewed differently by different people. Those who drive least safely most of the time (continuous risk takers) tend to view all engineering interventions very negatively, except black box technology.
– More research is required on the link between attitudes and acceptance. In addition, a closer examination of the importance of control and driving should be considered.

– There is support that more visible policing would alter a driver’s own behaviour.
– Almost all drivers, though, believe themselves to be law-abiding, but have their own definition of what constitutes ‘law-abiding’, especially with regards to driving over the speed limit.
– Stronger penalties are perceived to be more appropriate for drivers who deliberately and wilfully break driving laws. Drivers have mixed views as to whether speeding constitutes a deliberate or accidental breaking of the traffic laws, and hence mixed responses to perceived penalty.
– There is high support for seat-belt and drink-driving laws, and high compliance with such laws. However, there continues to be a small minority who flout such laws.
– Although the majority of younger people were against drug-driving, driving on cannabis was thought to be more acceptable and less dangerous than drink-driving and driving on other types of drug.
– Most people support the ban on mobile phone use and support tighter legislation.
– There is some support for speed cameras, but how support is changing over time is open to debate.
– Support is found for visible speed cameras and for hand-held speed cameras.
– Further research is suggested to address whether support for speed cameras is changing and why there is more support for mobile cameras. In addition, research on the comprehension of speeding as an unintentional slip/lapse or an intentional violation is suggested.

– Campaigns targeting a mass audience may have little effect on changing the behaviour of road users, but may influence attitudes and social norms.
– Campaigns that induce fear have little effect on the most confident drivers who believe such adverts are not targeted at them.
– Skills training can have an unintended negative effect on driver performance by creating overconfidence, especially among professional drivers.
– More success in changing behaviour and attitudes comes from interventions that target specific behaviours and groups, such as implementation intentions and reflective group discussions.
– Evaluations of safety campaigns have, in the past, been subject to methodological flaws which reduce their findings and conclusions.

– Walking is viewed as the safest mode of transport.
– Road safety is viewed by parents as one of three key risk areas for children (along with drugs and bullying).
– Parents have a good understanding of children’s road safety needs. Parents think their children have good road safety skills, although BME parents are less confident in their children’s road safety skills.
– Older children and adolescents think they have a good attitude to road safety, but believe others do not, especially their peer group. Adults and parents believe that road-user skills deteriorate as children get older, largely attributing this to peer-group pressure.

– Most children do not think cycling was very risky and did not think accidents would happen to them.
– One of the major barriers to cycle-helmet use includes peer pressure, with cycle helmets being seen negatively by friends.

– Motorcycling is viewed as the most dangerous mode of transport.
– Younger, less experienced drivers have the least positive attitude towards motorcyclists and are more likely to be involved in accidents with them.
– Females drivers show less empathy towards motorcyclists, but display more skill in interacting with them.
– Most positive attitudes towards motorcyclists come from drivers who themselves are motorcyclists or have close relatives who are.
– There is some interesting research on attitudes towards motorcyclists that links attitudes and skill, something that other areas of road-user safety research requires more focus on.

Attitudes and behaviour:
– Concluding the empirical evidence from the literature, it may be argued that, while road-users’ attitudes towards safe behaviour is an important determinant of (intended) behaviour, it does not provide by itself a full explanation of that behaviour.
– Subjective norms do play an important role in explaining intension and behaviour in the context of road-user safety, including aspects such as driving speed, committing risky violations and involvement in risky road-user behaviour in general.
– Perceived Behaviour Control is the strongest predictor of speeding behaviour and those who feel they have less control commit more violations.
– According to the Theory of Planned Behaviour (TPB), behaviour is assumed to be reasoned, controlled or planned. One criticism of TPB had been that human behaviour is habitual or automatic, rather than planned.
– Alternatively, cognitive psychologists and behavioural economists argue that choices made by individuals, systematically deviated from rational models of behaviour, can be explained and predicted by cognitive psychology models of bounded rationality. Moreover, it opens the opportunity to change an individual’s behaviour towards better alternatives – in a way that does not limit their freedom of choice (or, as it is fashionable to say, people are ‘nudge-able’).

Methodological issues:
– Research reviewed for this report has largely been quantitative in nature and has a variety of limitations, including the self-report nature of the data, the terminology used in the collection of the data, the lack of focus on the outliers, the over-use of forced-choice rather than open-ended questions, and the proposition of fixed time responses.
– It is suggested that a deliberative qualitative approach can help address some of these issues.

– It is suggested that future research should concentrate on teasing out some of the following relations:
• the difference between attitudes a road user has about their own road-user behaviour and the attitudes they have about other road-user behaviours, and how that shapes and mediates accepted risk;
• the influence of normative pressure on behaviour and how this is framed by attitudes;
• to address interpersonal differences in attitudes and behaviour at the disaggregate level;
• changes in attitude at an intrapersonal level;
• how road-user safety is conceptualised, especially in relation to other non-road-user and other road-user behaviour, to address the cognitive and emotional perceptions of risk;
• to look for links and mapping of different psychosocial variables;
• to address the role of positive psychology and pro-social behaviour;
• to address changes in attitude and behaviour over time;
• to examine attribution of behaviour to assess true attitude-behaviour relationships;
• to address the public’s own semantics, terminology and meanings with regard to road-user safety; and
• to address the role of attitudes in the success of interventions aimed at improving road-user safety.
– In addition, a number of knowledge gaps were found, including attitudes of, and towards, pedestrians (especially adults), motorcyclists, cyclists (again especially adults) and public attitudes towards drug-driving.
– Attitudes towards new concepts such as psychological and intuitive traffic-calming, shared space and the relationship to road-user safety should be investigated.
– Finally, to assess whether attitudes towards the environment may influence road-user safety.


Musselwhite, C., Avineri, E., Fulcher, E., Goodwin, P., & Susilo, Y. (2010). Understanding public attitudes to road-user safety – literature review: final report road safety research report no. 112

Report Type Project Report
Publication Date Sep 1, 2010
Deposit Date Dec 16, 2010
Publicly Available Date Dec 2, 2016
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Keywords road safety, attitudes, literature review, empathy, psychology
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information Additional Information : Crown Copyright material is reproduced under Class Licence Number C2006000478 with the permission of the Controller of HMSO and the Queen’s Printer for Scotland.


Downloadable Citations