Perceptions of safety: findings from focus groups

Published: Aug 2020

ISBN: 978-1-913246-38-9

Author: Posner R, Christmas S, Cooper A, Shepherd J, & Helman S

Pages: 70

Reference: PPR953


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Focus group research was undertaken to better understand how drivers and riders experience feelings of safety when using the Strategic Road Network in England. Seven focus groups were undertaken with a total of 44 people. The groups comprised male drivers under 35, female drivers under 35, HGV drivers, drivers over 60, motorcyclists, and two groups of low confidence drivers.

A key finding was that people do not tend to report ‘safety’ as something that is directly experienced; rather, people report an absence of negative experiences and feelings associated with believing oneself to be at risk.

These experiences and feelings of ‘unsafety’ appear to vary along at least three related dimensions. First, they can be more emotional or more cognitive in nature. Second, the source of risk can vary in how known or unknown it is. Third, the extent to which a risk is seen as manageable or unmanageable varies.

These dimensions provide a framework in which Highways England can understand when, where and why their customers feel unsafe when on the network. Recommendations around whether and how to reduce feelings of unsafety are given. These include using the framework to further understand the complexity of perceptions of unsafety, suggestions for road design, and a focus on targeting moments of change and unfamiliarity in the road network.

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