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Trial finds psychological messages on signs got Norwich drivers to switch off engines

PUBLISHED: 08:05 14 March 2018 | UPDATED: 12:05 14 March 2018

One of the signs which was installed in Riverside Road to encourage drivers to switch off their engines. Pic: University of East Anglia.

One of the signs which was installed in Riverside Road to encourage drivers to switch off their engines. Pic: University of East Anglia.

University of East Anglia

Findings from a trial in Norwich show drivers are more likely to turn off idling engines if there are signs by the side of the road urging them to think about their actions.

John Fisher, chairman of the Norwich highways agency committee. Pic: Norfolk Conservatives. John Fisher, chairman of the Norwich highways agency committee. Pic: Norfolk Conservatives.

Norwich City Council’s cabinet is today due to agree to ask the government for the power to fine drivers who leave their engines running while stopped in parts of the city centre covered by an air quality action plan.

While those fines would not be issued to drivers stopped at traffic lights or in queues caused by congestion, the aim is to get drivers to change their behaviour to cut air pollution.

And a five-week project, carried out by researchers from the University of East Anglia and the Transport for Norwich initiative run by City Hall and Norfolk County Council, showed how signs can get drivers to switch off their engines.

Signs, based on psychological theories of social influence were placed at the traffic light controlled junction in Riverside Road for three weeks in October and November last year.

Three different signs were used. They said:

“Think about your actions. When the traffic lights are red, turn off your engine.”

“Join other responsible drivers in Norwich. Switch off your engine when the traffic lights are red.”

“Turn off your engine when the traffic lights are red. You will improve air quality in this area.”

The behaviour of more than 4,600 drivers was observed. Before the introduction of the signs, only 9.6pc of people turned off their engine when waiting at a red light - this increased to 17pc when a sign was present.

Results also suggest there was a lasting benefit even after the signs were taken down.

Dr Rose Meleady, a lecturer in psychology at the UEA, said: “Our research shows that using psychological theory to inform the design of road signs can help bring about changes in driver behaviour. Rather than simply telling people what do to, the signs are designed to tap into the underlying motivational basis for behaviour.

John Fisher, chair of Norwich highways agency committee, said: “Air quality is an important issue facing cities across the country and work like this is a valuable step in understanding what measures we can take to keep emissions as low as possible.”

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