In March 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, most European governments put in place unprecedented restrictions on travel and movement. These included lockdowns affecting most of the population and the closure of kindergartens and schools.
In the UK alone we have had the effective shutdown of driver training and testing in three separate national lockdowns and further restrictions on delivery in tiered and regional lockdowns. This has already resulted in a backlog of over 430,000 practical tests and 380,000 theory tests, on top of hundreds of thousands of hours of driver and rider training sessions lost.
While no statistical measure has been taken on the impact on road safety education in schools, we can be fairly confident that what is often a Cinderella element of public health education in schools in ‘normal’ times, will have taken even more of a backseat as schools struggled to deliver even the basic national curriculum.
Road safety campaigns have continued in some areas, with key campaigns by Highways England and THINK! still rolling out but with many campaigning bodies, such as road safety charities, being hard hit by COVID in terms of both financial and people resources, many projects have had to be delayed or shelved.
Against a backdrop of a rising rate of RTCs per traffic volume, there is little doubt that road safety will be severely impacted by the pandemic and a sharp reduction of road safety education activity will be a contributory factor to that. Driver and rider training and testing and wider road safety education will take some time to recover post COVID.
The European Transport Safety Council (ETSC) recently produced a report looking at the impact that the shutdown of road safety education has had across the continent. For this, the ETSC asked the members of the LEARN! expert panel how the restrictions, and in particular the closure of schools, affected the provision of traffic safety and mobility education in their country, their work related to it, and how they adapted to it.
The LEARN! project (Leveraging Education to Advance Road safety Now!) by the ETSC, Fundación MAPFRE and the Flemish Foundation for Traffic Knowledge (VSV) aims to improve the quality of traffic safety and mobility education in Europe. The project focuses in particular on children and youngsters, as they have a right to grow up safely and traffic safety should therefore be an important and natural part of their everyday life.
ETSC also asked the LEARN panel whether they expect certain elements introduced in response to COVID-19 restrictions to remain in place post COVID. The experts indicated that the traffic safety lessons and workshops at schools had to be cancelled as a result of the schools closing, with, notably, the cyclist and pedestrian exams not taking place in 2020.
Moreover, the testing of new or revised material and the evaluation of existing teaching material had to be postponed as well. Educational material on traffic safety and mobility was increasingly digitised in response to the situation, and actively promoted towards schools, teachers and parents.
Several countries and organisations established digital platforms where the educational material was collected and presented. In some countries teacher training was held virtually. While schools switched to distance learning, a distinct focus on teaching, and catching up on the core subjects was noted in several countries, resulting in fewer children having received traffic safety and mobility education in 2020.
A digital future?
With regards to the future, a majority of the experts consider that the digitisation of traffic safety and mobility education will continue post-COVID. Several experts however expect a return to the pre-COVID situation, as the possibilities to digitise practice-oriented education, for example, are limited.
Some experts consider a hybrid future, where in-person or digital is chosen depending on the activity – including for teacher training. Experts furthermore expect that a wider variety of educational material will be offered post COVID. And with the uptake of cycling and walking during the lockdowns, a focus on the new trends in urban mobility in educational material is expected as well.
We can draw a parallel with the above in terms of the impact on road safety training and education outside of schools. Some training not possible in-vehicle or in a physical classroom was shifted, where it could be, to digital provision.
Driver offender and rehabilitation programmes, such as NDORS, switched rapidly from costly classroom provision to virtual provision and look set to continue in this manner, or be offered on a blended basis.
Some areas of fleet could have been better provided for in the same manner but confusing advice on whether fleet training could or could not take place in-vehicle and the priority of rapidly recruiting and deploying new drivers and riders to help meet the new transport and logistic challenges caused by COVID meant that training took a backseat in many areas, or was at least delivered in much less depth than in normal times.
CPC did switch to digital too in many areas, and again, like driver offender courses, we may see elements of that remain in future provision.
In learner and novice driver education we didn’t really see the same level of shift to online training. There were some trainers who were already up to speed on delivering digital learning as a supplementary element of their provision (and their income)
DIA has been encouraging the adoption of increasingly available and accessible eLearning technologies, and using social media to create learning opportunities outside of the on-road world for a while now. You can read many articles on this subject in previous copies of this magazine and we’ve also run webinars on the subject, available in DIA Academy now.
There are many benefits to offering online learning that we’ve covered before but one big benefit the industry now realises it does offer is that it can be switched on when other training is switched off. In terms of both supplementing on-road training and being able to deliver when on-road training is not possible, digital learning must be something more trainers seriously consider offering post COVID.