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Understanding the public attitudes to road safety. A review of the literature 2000-2009

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

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Charles Musselwhite

Erel Avineri

Eamon Fulcher

Phil Goodwin

Yusak Susilo


This paper supports the conclusion of stage one of a project that will provide the Department for Transport (DfT) with an in-depth understanding of how the public engage with the issue of road user safety, to help inform development of the Government’s Post-2010 Road Safety Strategy. It presents an in-depth review of 72 research reviews, reports and journal articles relating to public attitudes to road user safety, concentrating on evidence from the UK dating from the year 2000 onwards.

At the aggregate level there is high support from the public that behaving in a safe manner on the roads is important and increasing safety through various interventions, including enforcement, engineering and education, is seen as generally acceptable. For example, there is generally a high level of understanding that faster speeds are linked to collisions and high support for drink-driving laws, increasing 20mph zones in residential areas, traffic calming and speed cameras. However, closer inspection of the literature suggests some subtle differences both between and within individuals. A prevailing theme throughout this review has been the notion of a difference between the road user themselves and “other” road users. Overwhelmingly, there seems to be a consensus that drivers and pedestrians see themselves as competent and safe road users and other users of the road environment as more risky and dangerous. Hence, support for interventions is largely accepted as necessary for “other” road users rather than for themselves. In addition, the public’s conceptualisation of road user safety shows the social nature of appraising risk and the road user environment and consequently the impact of normative pressure, especially the influence of others, is evident in much of the research. Hence, distorted views on the behaviour of others towards safety and risk influence the public’s own behaviour. Another prevailing theme that emerges from the literature to date is that attitudes towards road user safety seem to vary within individuals over a period of time. Older and female road users have more safety orientated attitudes almost across all road user domains than younger and male road users, for example. In addition, attitudes vary depending upon the context of the research and of the researched. Hence, findings are different when investigating attitudes towards road user safety between a pedestrian and a driver. However, it must be remembered a driver can also be a pedestrian, cyclist or motorcyclist at other times. Research needs to understand road user attitudes in the context of an individual. Gaps have been identified for further research to be addressed at the latter stages of the research project.


Musselwhite, C., Avineri, E., Fulcher, E., Goodwin, P., & Susilo, Y. (2009, March). Understanding the public attitudes to road safety. A review of the literature 2000-2009. Paper presented at 19th Behavioural Studies Seminar, Horsley Park, East Horsley, Leatherhead

Presentation Conference Type Conference Paper (unpublished)
Conference Name 19th Behavioural Studies Seminar
Conference Location Horsley Park, East Horsley, Leatherhead
Start Date Mar 30, 2009
End Date Apr 1, 2009
Publication Date Jan 1, 2010
Deposit Date Oct 27, 2010
Publicly Available Date Feb 24, 2016
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Keywords public attitudes, road safety
Public URL


Musselwhite_Understanding_the_Public_Attitudes_to_Road_User_Safety_final_letherhead.doc (274 Kb)

Musselwhite_Understanding_the_Public_Attitudes_to_Road_User_Safety_final_letherhead.pdf (406 Kb)

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