Witnesses on the move: Effect evaluation of a traffic related educational programme in the third grade of secondary school

21 November 2013

 

Getuigen onderweg is a Flemish school program that wants to make youngsters of the third grade of secondary school aware of the dangers in traffic and to make them behave more safely. In this program, (relatives of) traffic victims tell about their life before the accident, the accident itself and their life after the accident. Despite the fact that this type of traffic education whereby victims of traffic accidents bring a testimony is frequently used, there is little known about the effect of this strategy. In this strategy, fear appeals are still often used in a sense that attention is mostly going the explicit demonstration of injuries just after the accident. The consequences on the longer term (social life, revalidation, financial situation, etc.) are often less taken into consideration. Getuigen onderweg tries to differentiate from this by staying away from these fear appeals and by giving attention to these long-term consequences, in order to stimulate persons to think about their traffic behavior.

 

Since it is not feasible to measure the effect of this program on behavior directly, the effect of the program in this study is measured indirectly by self-reports. In particular, the participants in this study gave their opinion on statements relating to their own traffic behavior and determinants of that behavior. These determinants are drawn from the literature about health prevention and traffic psychology. In particular, we used the Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB). According to this theory, behavior is predicted primarily by intentions, attitude, social norm and perceived behavioral control. A questionnaire was used consisting of background variables (e.g. sex), target variables (e.g. TPB determinants) and reception variables (e.g. cognitive/affective reception). In this study youngsters were randomly assigned to a control group or an experimental group. Both groups received a questionnaire two times, a first time (just before or after the program) on paper, a second time (2 months after the program) online. Research based on self-reports has the advantage of obtaining information regarding latent social psychological measures that are important in terms of behavioral influence. However, that kind of research is not evident and requires sufficient methodologically support. After all, if persons have to evaluate their own opinions and behaviors, it is possible that they are influenced (un)consciously by phenomena like social desirability (i.e. the feeling that one needs to position oneself more favorably than in reality towards others). In addition, when one has to fill in a questionnaire multiple times (like in this study), the answers on the second measurement could be influenced (un)consciously by the answers on the first measurement. This is known as a questionnaire effect. It is important to investigate whether possible intervention effects are not mixed up with such a questionnaire effect. Hence, this study has controlled for both social desirability and questionnaire effects. With regard to the latter, there is no indication that such a questionnaire effect occurred in this study.

 

Furthermore, the results indicate that before attending to the program, youngsters already seem to be positively oriented to traffic safety, with the exception of some aspects like using the bicycle helmet and the fluorescent jacket. Also, women seem to be more positively oriented compared to men and youngsters of ASO and TSO seem to more positively oriented compared to youngsters of BSO.

 

Immediately after attendance, the program overall seems to have small effects on the students of ASO and BSO on all TPB determinants. Two months after attendance, the program seems to have an overall medium sized effect on male students, on all TPB determinants with the exception of perceived behavioral control. Interestingly, students of BSO and male students had the lowest baseline level, leaving more space for improvement. In addition, students of ASO had the highest cognitive reception, while student of BSO had the highest affective reception. The results indicate that both a cognitive and affective reception increases the effect of the program.

 

Based on the results of this study, we can make some recommendations about the target group and the implementation. Looking at the target group, we can recommend to further offer the program to youngsters of the third grade of secondary school. The program had an improving effect for youngsters of ASO and BSO and male youngsters, while it had a reconfirming effect for youngsters of TSO and female youngsters. Given the high baseline level, one could consider the option to offer the program to a group with a lower baseline level, e.g. as an alternative sanction for groups of traffic offenders. Regarding the implementation, we recommend to address more explicitly the typical risk facilitating and prevention inhibiting circumstances. In addition, we advise to reach youngsters strategies to transform their intentions into behavior.

 

In conclusion: the program influences youngsters both cognitively as affectively. Program participants find it a useful and interesting experience that also affects them emotionally. This in turn stimulates participants to think consciously about their traffic behavior and responsibility in traffic. Statistically, the study indicates that the program improves the majority of the target variables. However, these results have to be interpreted with care. The effects are clearly dependent on the background profile of the participants and are not always persistent over time. In addition, looking at the size of these effects, we have to conclude that they were rather small. Especially when looking at perceived behavioral control and the skill to resist the negative influence of risk facilitating and prevention inhibiting circumstances, the program can further improve. Additional support for this contention comes from the literature on risk communication where it is a widely accepted idea that if one has the intention to change an individual’s behavior, it is best to not only focus on the susceptibility and seriousness of risks, but also (and especially) on the effectiveness of preventive measures and the self-confidence that one has the skills necessary to implement these preventive measures successfully.

 

Of course, the above mentioned results are dependent on the robustness of the research design and the quality of the questionnaire. With regard to the questionnaire, it is recommended to conduct some additional analyses with an eye on validation. An exploratory factor analysis is recommended to further verify construct validity, while a regression analysis is recommended to assess predictive validity. Also, additional research is recommended in order to test whether in terms of an effectiveness a distinction should be make between testimonies by a traffic victim or by a relative of a traffic victim. It is indeed possible that both types of testimonies differ (victims focus on other elements than relatives of victims and vice versa). In this study, we focused only on testimonies given by traffic victims.

 

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The Policy Research Centre for Traffic Safety carries out policy relevant scientific research under the authority of the Flemish Government. The Centre is the result of a

cooperation between Hasselt University, KU Leuven and VITO, the Flemish Institute for Technological Research.

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