Many European countries assign high priority to persuading more people to walk and cycle as they go about their business. Pedestrians and cyclists are in traffic safety research defined as vulnerable road users – which emphasises that the consequences of colliding with a motor vehicle can often be fatal.
“This makes it particularly important to study how pedestrians and cyclists perceive the risks they face on the roads, their worries and attitudes to traffic safety, and their behaviours in traffic”, says SINTEF researcher An-Magritt S. Kummeneje.
Recently she defended her PhD thesis entitled “Risk Perception, Worry, Attitudes Towards Safety, and Behaviour among Norwegian Cyclists and Pedestrians” at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). The thesis has recently been published in Science Direct.
Links between risk perception in traffic and in other aspects of life
Pedestrians and cyclists were asked to consider their risk of being involved in a traffic accident. The pedestrians were also asked what they thought about the risk of being a victim of theft, harassment or terrorism.
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“People’s perceived risk and their worry about hazards are of particular interest because they influence behaviour”, says Kummeneje. The results show that there is a link between how we perceive the various risk factors linked to traffic accidents, theft, harassment and terrorism, and our travel habits. Vulnerable road users’ risk perception and worries clearly influence their travel habits”, she says.
Time of year and time of day are very influential
Risk perception and level of worry are shown to be the most important factors that determine how often we choose whether or not to cycle in winter or venture outdoors at night.
Pedestrians were the most worried about becoming the victims of traffic accidents, theft, harassment and terrorism at night. Those who were the most worried did not go out at all after dark. In other words, fewer people chose to venture outdoors at night than during the day.
When it came to cyclists, the majority were worried about cycling in winter, while only a minority worried about cycling in summer. Their worries influenced whether or not they cycled on a daily basis. Those who were the most worried chose not to cycle at all. In other words, more people chose not to cycle in winter than in summer because of their worries about being involved in traffic accidents.
Less risk behaviour in rural areas
According to the study, cyclists’ attitudes to traffic safety and risk taking are also influenced by where they live. Those living in rural areas are more safety conscious in traffic and are less likely to be involved in risky behaviours than those living in the towns and cities.
“Comparisons between pedestrians’ and cyclists’ perceived risk, worries and behaviours have received very little attention in the past, and this makes it essential to carry out more research”, says Kummeneje.
Her thesis comprises a total of three studies. The first involves the results of an online questionnaire conducted among regular cyclists in the city of Trondheim in Mid-Norway. The data were gathered in collaboration with the Trondheim branch of the Norwegian Cyclists’ Association. Trondheim is an interesting place to study because of all the larger cities in Norway, it has the highest proportion of cyclists.
Data for the second study were gathered by means of telephone interviews with a representative sample of the Norwegian population, and focused on pedestrians’ behaviour. Data gathering was funded by the R&D programmes BEST and Bedre by (Better City), run by the Norwegian Public Roads Administration. The third study was aimed at regular Norwegian cyclists and the data were gathered in collaboration with the Norwegian Cyclists’ Association.