Evaluation of the crash course: Report to Staffordshire Fire & Rescue Service.




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De Montfort University, Leicester.


Technical Report

Peer reviewed



The original brief for this research from Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service and its partners was:

  • To evaluate the impact that the Crash Course has on the participants’ attitudes to safe road user behaviour;
  • To evaluate the effect that the Crash Course has on participants’ intention to drive safely in future;
  • To determine the appropriateness of the content and delivery of the programme for the primary target age group;
  • To evaluate the appropriateness of the content and delivery of the project to meet its stated objectives;
  • To outline possible courses of action for progression of the programme.

The specification also included paying particular attention to gender differences in attitudes to driving and the nature of peer pressure on young people.

The evidence and conclusions are summarised here in relation to this brief.

Does the course have a positive impact on the participants’ knowledge of safety issues?

The evidence from the study indicates that Crash Course does have a positive impact on young people’s knowledge about how to be safer on the road. There were two knowledge based questions in the survey: one concerned the causes of road crashes and the other concerned the ways in which passengers could keep themselves safer. The comparison between those who had experienced the course and those who had not shows statistically significant higher total scores on the questions designed to test knowledge of the key causes of road collisions (p=0.001). The comparisons on the matched sample of young people before they had received the course and afterwards showed improvement at a level approaching significance in respect of what they could do to keep themselves safer as passengers (p=0.068).

Does the course have a positive impact on the participants’ attitudes to safe road user behaviour?

The evidence shows that the course did have a consistent effect positive effect on attitudes towards the wearing of seat belts. At a statistically significant level, of those who completed the matched ‘before’ and ‘after’ questionnaires, more young people felt it was acceptable always to wear a seat belt after the course than before (p<0.001). For those who had attended the course compared with those who had not, the effect was similar (p=0.034).

For those who answered the questions ‘before’ and ‘after’, significant improvement was also evident in respect of whether they thought they could ask a person who had had too much to drink to stop (their ability to be assertive). After the course a greater number of the young people felt able to ask such a driver to stop (p=0.047).

In the comparison of those who received the course with those who did not, those who had seen the presentation were significantly more likely to view “Always wearing a seatbelt” as acceptable (p=0.034) and also to think that “reading a text quickly while driving” was “stupid” (p=0.001).

The qualitative evidence from the focus groups confirmed that virtually all the young people felt they had gained from the course, had a greater awareness of risks on the road and an increased knowledge about how they might be able to stay safe.

Does the course have a positive effect on the participants’ intentions to drive safely in future? . 409 young people completed the free text question about how they now wished to behave in future. By far the greatest number of responses indicated an intention to wear a seat belt in future (253 or 62% of those responding to the question). There is little doubt that this message is absorbed by a considerable proportion of the participants. A number also indicated that they would press others to do so as well. After that the most numerous answers concerned the resolution not to distract a driver and an intention to tell other drivers to reduce their speed or to drive more slowly when they became drivers themselves. Other responses showed an intention not to drink and drive or go with an intoxicated driver with a small number of other safety issues mentioned.

The young people’s comments in the focus groups confirmed the finding that the course does have a positive effect on intended behaviour, with respondents being able to illustrate how they now wanted to behave as drivers.

Is there any evidence of behaviour change as a result of the course?

The survey compared the self reported behaviour over the previous month for those who had attended the course and those who had not. A positive statistically significant difference was found in the self reports of those who had attended the course in respect of how frequently they had “messed” about in a car, potentially distracting the driver (p<0.001). Those who had attended the course also reported being more frequently “scared about the driving” (p=0.006), from which an inference might be drawn that they had become more sensitive to risk.

The qualitative evidence from both adult stakeholders and young people provided anecdotal examples of changes in behaviour after the course that offered some triangulation for the quantitative findings. These examples concerned not only the wearing of seatbelts but other changes such as persuading drivers to desist from mobile phone use or refusal to be a passenger with a driver who had been drinking. Some of the young people were clearly also influencing their peers or their families.

Are the content and delivery of the programme appropriate for the primary target age group?

The researchers observed the course in action with young people on five occasions. The presentation held the attention of the vast majority of the young people for the full two hours. There were no technical problems in any of the presentations observed. The team handled the material and the different media competently, moving well from one item to another. The presentation was described by stakeholders as “very professional”.

At the start of the observation visits, some members of the team feared that the material would be overwhelming and too distressing for 15 or 16 year-olds. In the light of the findings, this concern has however now dissipated. Only 34 of those completing their opinions after seeing the presentation found it “too scary” and 76 felt it upset them too much. Focus groups and teacher stakeholders confirmed that the force of the messages was perceived as legitimate, especially given that parents had given permission and any pupil could opt out. The fear-based messages need to be of sufficient strength to motivate a response without being gratuitously graphic. The researchers felt that approximately the right level was reached.

While many 15 or 16 year olds still have mercifully little life experience on loss, trauma, or bereavement to relate to the course content, there was no evidence that any significant proportion were ‘shutting off’ from the messages. The focus groups confirmed that most of those respondents felt the shocking nature of the course was necessary and that it did not cause shutting down of responses or particular resistance. It is not recommended that the course should be presented to pupils any younger than Year 11.

The research team felt, however, that the potential of emotional disturbance was considerable and that the Crash Course partnership needs to be pro-active about encouraging excellent levels of pastoral care for participants. This is for the most part the responsibility of the schools or other host organisations but should be encouraged at every opportunity. It was felt that an information leaflet should be made available with appropriate contact numbers of agencies to which young people could turn, in addition to their school pastoral support system. This would help to ensure that the responsibilities of the Crash Course partnership are fully met.

Are the content and delivery of the programme appropriate to deliver its stated objectives?

The view of the research team is that the Crash Course is broadly appropriate to deliver on the objective of increasing safe behaviour in cars with a view to reducing the number of young people killed or seriously injured. It is an unusual presentation and may even be unique. Its particular strengths are the use of speakers who have first-hand experience; their ability to use feelings and emotions as well as factual information (both female and male presenters); the credibility of the multi-agency delivery team and ownership by the partners. The role of the Fire and Rescue Service is significant. It provides an attractive and neutral image to most young people, compared for instance to the police or even the Youth Service and it can provide ample evidence of local incidents. This part of the positive image and branding of the course should be retained.

In the view of the research team, the ‘mechanism’ making the Crash Course effective is the use of a combination of facts, visual images and emotion in face to face delivery by a team of credible people with direct experience of the effects of road collisions. The team requires factual knowledge, stark images and a variety of first-hand experience. Team members have to be able to show appropriate feelings but also to control their emotions. They need to be able to engage a youth audience and control anger about inappropriate responses. They need a context of pastoral support for themselves as well as for the young participants. They need stable supportive management and the vigorous backing of a multi-agency partnership.

The core content file of the Crash Course should be revisited and updated. The essence of the educational messages and methods needs to be captured to ensure continuing fidelity and for future transfer elsewhere. Thereafter copyright should be taken on this effective pattern of intervention so that the essential mechanism can be preserved and replicated.

It is tempting to think that the Crash Course could only be successful with the personalities of the present team involved. These individuals are undoubtedly talented and committed but there is no evidence in this study to suggest that they are irreplaceable or that the basic mechanism could not be transferred elsewhere. It is essential that new personnel are recruited to the team as a matter of priority. Failing that this effective intervention is certain to die out in time and its coverage will be necessarily limited. There is no spare capacity within the current team strength to deliver more and demands are increasing for further presentations to adults. The report suggests the main elements for a person specification for new team members drawing on the responses of adult stakeholders and the young people themselves.

From the observations and the suggestions from young people, a few relatively minor recommendations have been drawn that might improve the impact of the course. These issues are outlined in the report and have been discussed with the Crash Course team for their consideration. In particular it is suggested that more content may be needed on coping strategies and on the effects of relatively small amounts of alcohol on judgement and coordination.

Follow up could be strengthened. Some schools do discuss the topic in tutor groups after the presentation but few take consistent opportunities to reinforce the messages in other parts of the curriculum. This is a missed opportunity. Similarly there is a need for a handout that can be given to the young people for reference to reinforce the essential messages of the course. This should address directly key steps that young people can positively take to make themselves safer even before they are drivers. It is essential not to leave people with a sense of helplessness at the end of the input. Such a handout might be combined with information on other road safety resources and the contact details of support agencies.

Further exploration is needed for Crash Course to seek topics or styles that might further harness the motivation of young men to act safely. In respect of deprivation, it is crucial that delivery should continue to schools and colleges in Stoke-on-Trent where there is more widespread deprivation than in the surrounding county.



collisions, fire service


Hoggarth, E., Anthony, D., Canton, R., Cartwright, I., Comfort, H., Payne, P., Shafiullah, M., Wood, J. and Yates, S. (2009) Evaluation of the Crash Course: Report to Staffordshire Fire & Rescue Service, De Montfort University, Leicester.


Research Institute

Institute for Research in Criminology, Community, Education and Social Justice
Institute of Health, Health Policy and Social Care