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Psst – you know they’re not the same as us: A psychologist's view of motivation and behaviour change in relation to high risk road users.
High risk road users present a difficult challenge for behaviour change programs. They continue to engage in risky behaviours despite the ongoing influence of community-wide programs that have often been shown to be broadly effective in reducing the frequency or severity of crashes.
There are two broad behaviour change options for high risk road users – increasing the intensity of already-operating programs, or developing and implementing new programs designed specifically to target them. The former approach is based on a belief that high risk road users will ultimately respond to the same behaviour change interventions, but that they are less responsive to current intensity levels. The second approach assumes that high risk road users are somehow immune to current interventions and will only respond to specifically targeted programs.
In either case, the challenge for road safety is how best to draw on psychological research and theory to foster the development and implementation of effective programs. Unfortunately, road safety programs are often based on theoretical notions about behaviour and behaviour change that are psychologically naïve. In particular, there is an implicit assumption in road safety research and program implementation that all road users have similar psychological characteristics and, more concerning, that they are similar in many respects to the people conducting research or developing and implementing road safety programs.
This paper introduces the concept of the road safety pyramid – a way of considering the potential value of behavioural research and theory in a road safety context. It is argued that theoretical development in road safety, behavioural research, and program development and implementation are all hindered by an implicit assumption that the vast mass of road users, and particularly the group engaging in high risk behaviours, has psychological characteristics that are similar in some way to the characteristics of researchers and practitioners. Examples of psychologically naïve approaches to behaviour change and behavioural research are used to demonstrate this argument, and the implications of the road safety pyramid for future research and program development targeting high risk road users are discussed.