Once they leave high school and are in search of the place where they will continue their education, students arrive at universities and other education centers trusting that all the knowledge and experience they will receive there will be what jettisons them into the future. Similarly, many of these young people have already received their driver’s licenses or are in the process of getting one, which will afford them the independence they’ve wished for since perhaps adolescence. As a result, for students driving becomes a daily activity surrounded by habits, decisions, and behaviors, without forgetting that their vehicle, be it a car, motorcycle, etc., is part of their public and private life, their freedom, leisure, and, why not, themselves.
However, the set of advantages described above come with significant problems that can destabilize or end all projects, plans for the future, and the present for these young drivers and, perhaps, their passengers. If we analyze the statistics provided every year by the Directorate General of Traffic (DGT) and focus on the age group between 15 and 34, we’ll find the justification to take road safety beyond driver’s ed. In 2017, 27% of traffic accident deaths occurred in the above-mentioned age group, with a total of 493 young people. 66% of these young people were driving the vehicle. In addition, according to the same institution, the age group where the number of deaths increased the most last year was 25 to 34 year-olds, with an increase of 37%.
Research shows that human error is involved in 70% to 90% of traffic accidents. But if we ask ourselves what phenomena are intervening in driver behavior, according to DGT, research shows that alcohol and drugs, distractions (mainly cell phones and social media), inappropriate speeds, and tiredness are the main factors appearing in fatal and serious accidents. To verify and support this research with more objective data, we took another look at the Traffic Accident Fatality Report of 2017 published by the National Institute of Toxicology and Forensic Science, and indeed, it shows that 42.09% of drivers killed behind the wheel tested positive for drugs, alcohol, or psychopharmacology, and, in numerous cases, they had combinations of said substances in their systems. If only young people are considered, they occupied 35% of all deceased drivers who tested positive, a significant piece of information to bear in mind. However, if we take a closer look at the data, we see that almost half of them had a blood alcohol content above 1.2 g/l, an amount classified as a crime by article 379.2 of the Spanish Criminal Code. Clearly, having a criminal background is not as serious as losing one’s life or health on the road, but it can also affect a young student’s trajectory. Not being able to travel or study at universities in certain foreign countries, not being able to practice a number of professions with certain responsibilities, and being ineligible to take civil service exams are some of the consequences attached to the above-mentioned crimes.
The European Commission communication from 2010, Towards a European Road Safety Area 2011-2020, describes an integrated approach to road safety and states that “road safety is closely linked to policy areas such as energy, environment, employment, education, young people, public health, research, innovation and technology, justice, insurance, trade, and foreign affairs, among others.” With this in mind, with regard to education and young people, Spain is behind the times.
What has been set forth thus far, and with due reflection, demonstrates the need to intervene in road safety at a young age within the university environment, an appropriate context to act with the necessary strategies. This way, young students will be able to internalize and continue to develop healthy habits within a road safety culture that understands that they are vulnerable with regard to their experience as drivers, regardless of whether or not they have a driver’s license; and even as passengers, as they can be proactive in the decisions and behaviors of the person behind the wheel.
This is how the first road safety project was born at Universidad Europea de Valencia (UEV) and developed in its classrooms: Road Safety is Contagious. With that name, the idea was that students, in addition to internalizing the content would become aware of the importance of road safety and even spread that awareness to others. The project was made up of workshops led by professors who are experts in Traffic Psychology, Criminology, and Road Safety, along with teachers from each subject of the bachelor’s degrees in the School of Social Sciences, all of whom are specialized in the corresponding field.
The main objective of this intervention was to raise awareness about the importance of road safety in students’ lives. Other objectives were also pursued like understanding that the driver’s behavior is what takes on the greatest deal of culpability in a traffic accident and is most likely to constitute a traffic crime; learning to develop road safety strategies, measures, campaigns, etc. from the students’ discipline or subject; and participating in prevention, and raising awareness about risky and criminal behavior behind the wheel.
The method used consisted of introducing workshops into a subject for bachelor’s degrees in Criminology and Psychology, Law, International Relations, and Marketing where student participation was the priority as well as reflection and debate and the use of the Internet and social media. This was carried out while working on content related to road safety. Students were subsequently required to work on a project related to both: the subject’s content and road safety.
In Criminology, students developed an accident prevention strategy and a strategy to prevent dangerous and criminal behaviors behind the wheel. In Law, students’ knowledge of the crimes and administrative offenses related to risk factors in road safety were assessed and a discussion and debate was held around appropriate punishments or fines for criminal behavior on the road. In Psychology, research was carried out on how alcohol, drugs, and distractions in the driver’s brain affect driving. In Marketing, students prepared a preventive campaign aimed at young people on social media. Finally, International Relations students worked on the issue of traffic accidents on European roads.
Once the project was completed, the workshops were assessed, stressing the experience, lessons learned, awareness raised, and even the need to run this type of program every year. The results were excellent, as well as the comments from many students. These included comments such as: “This was a very well-organized and well-executed project,” “Very fun, while you also learn practical information,” “Good talks that help raise people’s awareness to avoid increased numbers of traffic accidents,” “Interesting. I’d do it again.” … These students also indicated that they would like to mentor new students in the coming academic years.
In short, teaching Road Safety, from the human angle, should be another function of universities and other education centers. The current model used to simply receive a driver’s license is not enough. Road Safety is not an isolated discipline, but rather a part of everyday life for the individuals in a society like ours. Therefore, as pedestrians, cyclists, passengers, or drivers, we are the protagonists in a daily traffic scene, where risk is constant and dynamic; recognizing it and making appropriate decisions can save the lives of our children. When it comes down to it, who doesn’t know someone who died on the road?
European Union. European Commission communication (COM) (2010) 389 final). Towards a European road safety area: European road safety policy orientations 2011-2020. COM (2010) 389 final).
Directorate General of Traffic (2018). Las principales cifras de la siniestralidad vial (Traffic Accident Figures). Spain 2017. Madrid. Directorate General of Traffic.
National Institute of Toxicology and Forensic Science (2017). Memorias Víctimas Mortales en Accidentes de Tráfico 2016 (2016 Traffic Accident Fatality Report).