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Understanding how to reduce crashes and save lives: the East Sussex Road Safety Programme


Pilot schemes from an innovative programme to reduce the number of people killed or seriously injured on East Sussex roads have started to show considerable success.

Early results from 3 separate projects focusing on driver behaviour have shown a reduction in speeding re-offences and a reduction in crashes.

  • One project showed that drivers who had been caught speeding were 23% less likely to reoffend if they were targeted by the intervention, than drivers who were not targeted. This immediately cut re-offences by 168, which would equate to 565 fewer re-offences over 6 months if all speeding drivers had been targeted.
  • A second project showed that drivers who were sent a personalised reminder of a previous speeding offence were 8% less likely to reoffend, equating to 80 fewer re-offences over a 6-month period.
  • A third project has preliminary results that indicate crashes have been halved, after work was done to change the appearance of roads with the highest number of serious and fatal crashes in the county, by providing a consistent message to drivers (for example, by modifying road-markings and signs, resurfacing, changing the speed limit and adding reflective posts).

The initial results from the first 2 projects have been validated by data scientists from the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) who have worked with East Sussex County Council, Sussex Police and other partners from the Sussex Safer Roads Partnership to design and implement the road safety programme.

A full report of the outcomes will be made later in 2021. However, these initial results already confirm the success of these innovative projects. They will guide the development of future pilots in this road safety programme and suggest ways that road safety can be improved across Sussex and, potentially, the whole of England and Wales.

The East Sussex Road Safety Programme: background

A collision in which someone is killed or seriously injured (known as a KSI) is a tragedy for everyone involved. Perceptions that road users may not be safe harms our sense of well-being and of community. And it has been calculated that each KSI has a public cost of more than £1 million, including the impact on the family and local economy and demands on emergency services and local authorities.

East Sussex has a higher number of road traffic collisions that result in someone being killed or seriously injured than the average for England. For the three year period 2017-2019 the average rate of KSIs for England was 43.2 per 100,000 of the population, compared to a rate of 73.7 for Hampshire, 72.0 for Cambridgeshire, 68.1 for East Sussex and 59.7 for West Sussex.

With national figures showing 9 out of 10 collisions are caused by driver behaviour, it was decided in 2016 to use one-off funding from East Sussex Public Health to look at how we could inspire road users to change behaviour.

Working with The Behavioural Insights Team (BIT), and in partnership with Sussex Police and other partners from the Sussex Safer Roads Partnership, East Sussex County Council launched an innovative programme using data science to understand the causes of serious collisions and test interventions among priority groups that could potentially help to reduce the number of people being killed or seriously injured on East Sussex roads.

Evidence shows that the vast majority of KSIs result from driver carelessness or error. In addition, speed has been shown to be a significant factor in collisions.

With this in mind, a number of projects aimed at people who have committed speeding offences were carried out, with the intention of reducing the rate of reoffending, and therefore (over time) reducing the risk of these drivers being involved in a serious collision.

Work to improve road safety by modifying road infrastructure and speed management has also being carried out. 

The road safety projects so far

1. Notice of Intended Prosecution (NIP) pilot

Normally when someone is caught speeding by a police officer or speed camera, Sussex police send them a letter, called a Notice of Intended Prosecution (NIP) along with a leaflet about the dangers of speeding. 

In partnership with Sussex Police, changes were made to the wording of some Notice of Intended Prosecution (NIP) letters and some accompanying leaflets, based on behavioural insights. 

The new NIP letter used simplified wording and highlighted a clear call-to-action for drivers to confirm who was driving the vehicle at the time of the offence. The new leaflet aimed to persuade people to change their driving behaviour by using an emotive headline and photograph, addressing the misconception that collisions are out of drivers' control and explaining the rationale behind speed limits.

An example of part of the new leaflet

Leaflet image: No driver means to kill they were just going too fast
The site of a fatal 3 car collision on the A272 in Sussex

Over 12 months, people who had been caught speeding were randomly divided into 4 groups and sent either: 

a) An amended letter and amended leaflet

b) An amended letter and old leaflet

c) An old letter and amended leaflet

d) An old letter and old leaflet

Speeding re-offence was then analysed after 6 months to test which combination of letters and leaflets had the biggest impact.  People receiving both the amended NIP letter and amended leaflet, were 23% less likely to reoffend within 6 months, compared to the group who received the old NIP letter and old leaflet.

That is equivalent to 170 fewer re-offences and would equate to 560 fewer re-offences over a 6-month period if everyone in the pilot had received the amended NIP and amended leaflet.

2. New Year pilot

Around 55,000 drivers in Sussex who had received at least one speeding offence within the last 3 years were sent a one-off letter just after the New Year, designed to remind them of their offence and encourage them to drive more safely in future.

The letter included a photo of the person’s vehicle breaking the speed limit, a message reminding them of the offence and the related consequences of speeding, and a request not to speed in the coming year. Its design used several ideas from behavioural science, including the ‘fresh start’ effect, using the New Year as a timely opportunity for people to commit to changing their driving habits, as well as personalisation, by showing people a picture of their own car caught on camera as a surprising and powerful reminder of their previous offence.

An example letter (using fictional personal details)

Sussex Police logo

Jane Smith
123 Crescent Rise
TN34 1AA

Date: 18/1/2019

Dear Jane,

On behalf of the Sussex Police, I’d like to encourage you to start as you mean to go on – keep to the speed limit this New Year.

The picture below was taken just over a year ago, on 18 October 2017, when you were caught speeding on Gatwick Road in Crawley. As a result, you paid a fine and received 3 points on your licence.

In Sussex, 2 people are killed or seriously injured on our roads every day, one of the highest rates in the UK. A lot of thought goes into speed limits. They take into account the history of accidents in the areas.

That’s why we enforce them, we want to keep the roads of Sussex safe.

Since the New Year is time for aspirations and resolutions, I wanted to send you this reminder to encourage you to stick to the limit this year.

Photo of traffic taken by a speed camera

Please help us to keep the roads safe and ensure you do not break the speed limit in 2019.

Yours faithfully,

Nigel Heard, Chief Superintendent

Drivers who received this amended letter were 8% less likely to speed within 12 months compared to those who didn’t receive it.  Over a 6-month period, this equated to 80 fewer re-offences and over a 12-month period to 105 fewer re-offences. If applied to all offenders across England and Wales, this may lead to around 3,600 fewer re-offences over 6 months and 4,700 fewer over 12 months. Those reductions would be in addition to the effect of any speed awareness courses taken by this group.

Anticipated effect of both pilots

If both the New Year and Notice of Intended Prosecution pilots were introduced everywhere, we would expect 920 fewer re-offences in Sussex and 37,500 fewer in England and Wales over a year.

3. High risk sites pilot

Our road safety programme includes making physical changes to the way roads appear to drivers at certain sites, in order to test how this changes their behaviour. 

This involved some lower-cost changes (for instance to signs, road-markings, surfacing and speed limit) to make it clear and consistent to drivers how they should approach and navigate that section of road. 

Photo of a road showing speed limit at 40 miles per hour and a sign reading Blackham please drive carefully

Of 15 schemes implemented across East Sussex, the first 6 months’ data is available for 8 sites. The preliminary results for these sites show more than a 50% reduction in the average number of annual crashes and over 60% reduction in the average number of annual casualties per year. The results suggest minor and low-cost changes can have a big impact on driver behaviour.

Next steps

Work continues on the analysis of these projects and a final report will be published later in 2021. 

Other projects are also being tested or developed and all the work carried out so far will help shape the future of the programme. 

Results from the East Sussex programme will also be published for review and discussion among road safety experts nationally so that its insights may be used to improve road safety across the country. 

For more information about the programme, please contact Road Safety.