A key element of the Toward Zero Deaths (TZD) National Strategy on Highway Safety is to encourage change in the traffic safety culture in the United States among road users, including non-motorized users, and other organizations that have an existing or potential role in traffic safety, e.g., agencies responsible for public safety, education, or public health. Although extensive research related to culture change has been conducted across many disciplines, little has been done to apply that knowledge to improve traffic safety—reducing deaths and injuries—by influencing or changing the traffic safety culture of individuals and organizations. Road users need to make safety-driven decisions related to how they drive, walk, cycle, and ride. Basing decisions on factors such as potential time savings, a perceived lack of impact on other road users, or an overestimation of their own abilities can lead to actions that harm themselves or others. Successfully changing the traffic safety culture among road users should result in road user decisions that recognize potential safety impacts on themselves or other road users. From a professional and organizational perspective, a positive change in safety culture would result in safety having an appropriate weight in decisions that impact the transportation network and its operation. Changing safety culture is a complex challenge because there are many levels of social influence that give rise to a culture. For example, the traffic safety culture in the United States is a reflection of social influences from local (e.g., family, workplace, and community) as well as more distant influences (e.g., state and national). A successful program focused on changing traffic safety culture should achieve lasting change as opposed to changes in short-term behavior. Research is needed to provide state departments of transportation (DOTs) and their traffic safety partners with a strategic approach to reduce traffic-related injuries and deaths by changing the safety culture of the public and of organizations whose actions impact traffic safety.
The objective of this research is to develop a strategic approach that state DOTs and their traditional and non-traditional traffic safety partner organizations can use to transform public and organizational traffic safety culture to enable sustainable improvements in traffic safety for all road users, including non-motorized users.
At a minimum, the approach should provide the following (no relative significance or order of performance is implied):
An operational definition of traffic safety culture that (1) is informed by existing theoretical models based in social science research that describes the key elements (factors) that are part of culture according to the identified theoretical models, (2) relates to strategic traffic safety planning processes, and (3) should enhance implementation of state Strategic Highway Safety Plans.
Identification of the roles of relevant stakeholders necessary to support the transformation process.
A program development model to guide the prioritization, design, implementation, and assessment of strategic programs to transform the traffic safety culture.
Scalable guidance on when and how to conduct an assessment of traffic safety culture and how to apply the results.
Existing and promising culture change strategies from traffic safety or other disciplines that can be implemented by state DOTs and/or their traditional and non-traditional partner organizations.
The final deliverable(s) should be presented in a format that is appropriate for a multidisciplinary and lay audience and will include: (1) a strategic approach that state DOTs and their traditional and non-traditional traffic safety partner organizations can use to transform public and organizational traffic safety culture to enable sustainable improvements in traffic safety for all road users, including non-motorized users; (2) documentation of the conduct of the research project, incorporating all other specified deliverable products of the research; (3) an executive summary that outlines the research results; and (4) the research team’s recommendation of research needs and priorities for additional related research.
STATUS: Research is in progress.