Combining safe system principles and road safety education in schools - an opportunity for improved demand on road system operators and a broader understanding of risk and safety
Road safety education in schools offers many opportunities for improving road safety. This is a rare opportunity to present a coherent, developing message across years to children and adolescents as their understanding evolves, consistent with best practice early prevention principles. However, in many instances road safety education has suffered from a number of limitations: unsystematic content development, ad hoc delivery, delivery by (well-meaning) presenters with little education experience or understanding of students‟ learning needs, and content which is distinctly old paradigm, focussed only on changing the behaviour of the student audience as road users. The present paper draws on evidence of successful learning of road safety messages (as shown in school leaver quizzes) and safe system principles, to recommend features of road safety education which increase its chances of success. Safe system principles herald a new road safety paradigm in which the system operators hold the major responsibility for road safety, with an onus to accept that people will make mistakes, and thus that crashes will occur; and an onus to provide a system in which people are not exposed to physical forces beyond those which the human body can withstand, in a crash. Road safety education has not yet adopted this paradigm. Evidence based practice supports the following features of road safety education: it is part of the school curriculum, rather than irregular events; it includes content for every year of school; it does not include driver training; it is taught by professional school teachers with extra training in road safety so as not to perpetuate the social myths and risk misjudgements which pervade road safety; it includes teaching safe system principles as well as personal responsibility, in order to create understanding and demand for a safer system, the ultimate solution to the road safety problem.