A History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46




The Committee on Road Safety was set up “to consider such plans as are possible for reducing accidents on the roads and for securing improvements in the conduct of road users in the interests of safety”. In an interim report + the Committee agreed with the suggestion of an “extensive and persistent campaign of educational propaganda aimed at the education of every class of road user”.

The report urged that propaganda to deal with risks to road users should form part of the long-term campaign to come into operation as soon as possible after hostilities have ceased in Europe. “The basis of this long-term programme” it went on “should be the education of the public in the precepts contained in the Highway Code and should be of an educative and persuasive character rather than in the nature of exhortation”.

This Social Survey report is based on a study of public attitudes made before a longterm programme of propaganda began. It is a preliminary study only and far from complete. It is meant to give a summary account of attitudes before the general picture is changed either by the publicity campaign or by the expected changes in the road situation.

A complete study would give detailed attention not only to what the public said about accidents or the Highway Code but also to what members of the public did in situations where accidents occurred or were likely to occur. Only in this way could the practical effectiveness of opinion be measured and it is on its results in this direction that any campaign must be judged.

In the report an account is given of experiments with various techniques designed to test effective opinion and knowledge of road accident dangers. Much more work will be needed on these techniques before they are accepted as completely validated methods of measurement, but it seemed important to start thinking in this general direction.

Summary of Results

The majority (56%) of a representative sample of civilian adults considered the problem of road accidents as “very serious”. 29% considered the problem only as “fairly serious” and 15% either thought the problem was “not serious” or were unable to express a definite opinion. There was little difference in attitude between the sexes or between age groups. This statement of attitude was checked by experimental observations of road behaviour and tests of ability to perceive danger situations, and from all sources it appears that a little more than half of the adult population is taking the problem of road accidents “very seriously” and that considerable sections are much less perturbed or alert to the possible dangers.

There are larger proportions in the North and Scotland than in the South and London which consider the problem “very serious”. In the North Midland and Eastern regions notable proportions of the sub-samples considered the problem “not serious”. There is little evidence that the parents of children under 15 take a more serious attitude to the problem of road accidents than the general public and it appears from all sections of the report that there is no marked awareness of the special dangers to children. Only half of the informants with children under 15 had heard of Kerb Drill.

An attempt was made to assess the awareness of the general public of special dangers from different groups of road users. Informants were asked to indicate what faulty actions of various groups of road users were liable to cause accidents. The comments made were compared with the analysis of the causes of road accidents made in the 1937 Road Accident report. Although this report may be criticised on many grounds it is the only official account of road accidents covering non-fatal as well as fatal injuries. From this comparison it may be said that the general public give due weight in their verbal estimates of road accidents to the dangers of pedestrians crossing roads heedlessly or not paying attention to oncoming traffic masked by obstructions. On the whole, due weight seems to be given, in expressed opinion to the dangers of “jay walking” by pedestrians.

The general public seems to be badly informed of the particular dangers due to cyclists. By comparison with this analysis undue weight in expressed opinion is given to cyclists riding too many abreast or to their “excessive speed” and too little weight to dangers from cyclists at corners.

There is similarly an underestimation of the dangers due to motorists in general, and in particular to their misjudging clearances, skidding and turning corners without due care. There is too much weight given in verbal estimates to dangers from motorists’ “excessive speed”. Further, as between motor cyclists, pedal cyclists and motorists, undue weight in verbal expressions of opinion is given to the dangers due to motor cyclists and pedal cyclists. (See however, last paragraph of' Section 1.)

Only one third of the sample were quite clear that they knew of the Highway Code and men were much more aware of its existence than women. There was however, general support for the idea of a code of road conduct, but 48% of the sample were in favour of other methods than the existing booklet as alternatives or supplement to its use.

[2] December 1944 H.M.S.O.

We use cookies to track usage and preferences.

Privacy & Cookie Policy Accept & Close