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The University of Southampton

Human factors engineering unravels troubling global road safety figures

Published: 21 May 2021
Three wheels truck on a street
Southampton engineers are leading research into global road safety.

This week is UN Global Road Safety Week, the first event in an international Decade of Action for Road Safety from 2021 to 2030.

The UN’s 2020 resolution to improve global road safety set a target to prevent at least 50 percent of road traffic deaths and injuries by 2030, with its Stockholm Declaration emphasising the importance of a holistic approach to road safety. 
Over the past four years the Human Factors Engineering Group at the University of Southampton has led an international research team exploring why a disproportionate number of deaths take place around the world in Low- and Middle-Income Countries (LMICs). 
Road traffic collisions kill around 1.35 million people every year, with 93 percent of these occurring in LMICs despite 60 percent of the world’s vehicles being driven here by 81 percent of the world’s population. 
The SocioTechnical Approach to Road Safety (STARS) project has investigated the wider social, cultural, economic, and regulatory factors that influence people’s behaviour on the roads. 
The research has been funded by the National Institute for Health Research with Overseas Development Assistance and is a partnership with other universities in Bangladesh, China, Kenya, Vietnam, Ecuador and Brazil. 
The project included a study searching how belief in factors such as luck and fatalism affect attention lapses, rule violations, and aggressive behaviours in pedestrians. Researchers found that results differ across countries. In Bangladesh and Kenya, stronger religious beliefs were associated with safer attitudes and behaviours, whereas the opposite was true in countries such as Vietnam and Thailand. 
Dr Rich McIlroy, Senior Research Fellow in Transportation and Human Factors, says: “One of the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN’s Agenda 2030 was to halve deaths and injuries from road traffic crashes by 2020 but it is clear that this has not been achieved. 
“We want to move away from root cause and blame culture towards an understanding of system failure as a complex web of factors that are best addressed at policy, management, and legal framework levels. 
“To this end, we have designed and are starting to test a new, systems-based collision reporting system. This is something we will continue into the future, building on the partnerships we have developed, and further strengthening systems and road safety research capacity in our partner institutions.” 
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