MSU researcher co-authors book on new approach to traffic safety

Monday May. 20th, 2019

A new book that explores an emerging approach to reducing vehicle crashes is co-edited by Montana State University's Nicholas Ward, director of the university’s Center for Health and Safety Culture.

"Traffic Safety Culture: Definition, Foundation and Application" is the first book to deal comprehensively with the values, assumptions and beliefs that influence how drivers and others behave while on the road, according to Ward.  The cultures associated with the groups people belong to — family, friends, school, workplaces and others — are defined by those values, assumptions and beliefs, he said.

"It's a new way of looking at an old problem," said Ward, who has been active in the field for almost three decades. "Traffic safety has traditionally looked at engineering, enforcement and education as a way to make drivers behave safely. Because most crashes are the result of driver behavior, it is imperative to understand how culture influences driver behavior.”

The problem of traffic safety is a big one, and it is expected to grow, according to the book's editors. In their preface, they note that the World Health Organization estimates that more than 1.25 million people are killed annually and 50 million are injured on the world's roads, and that fatalities are expected to grow to 1.9 million by 2030 without increased prevention.

Co-edited by Barry Watson, global road safety expert at the Centre for Accident Research and Road Safety in Queensland, Australia, and Katie Fleming-Vogl, researcher at the Minnesota Department of Transportation, the book contains chapters written by 22 contributing authors from Australia , Austria and the United States, including Ward and five other MSU researchers. The chapters cover theoretical approaches and practical recommendations as well as case studies.

"We tried to organize the book so that it is accessible both to academic researchers and practitioners," Ward said.
Better road infrastructure and enforced regulations can contribute to better road safety, according to Ward, but there's a growing awareness that the influence of people’s cultures on road user behavior is also a significant factor. By better understanding how culture influences road users’ behavior — such as whether to wear a seatbelt or drive after drinking alcohol — public agencies and others can be more effective at fostering safe behaviors, he added.

Besides Ward, the contributing MSU authors are Eric Austin, associate professor in the Department of Political Science; William Schell, associate professor in the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering; and Kari Finley, senior research scientist, Kelly Green, research associate and Jay Otto, principal scientist, all three from the Center for Health and Safety Culture. The Center for Health and Safety Culture is housed in MSU's Western Transportation Institute in the Norm Asbjornson College of Engineering.

"Traffic Safety Culture: Definition, Foundation and Application" is available in hardback and ebook from Emerald Publishing Limited.