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It’s all about improvement

Dr Shaun Helman explains how, in a new project, TRL will be evaluating the impact of all available NDORS courses in achieving their stated objectives

Didn’t Ipsos MORI just show that speed awareness courses work?

One might ask why this is necessary, given the recent Ipsos MORI evaluation which suggested that the National Speed Awareness Course (NSAC) has a positive effect on reoffending, which involved a sample in the millions! 

The thing is, though, that there are six other courses, either in existence, or planned, that need to be evaluated. In addition, even NSAC will benefit from the evaluation we are undertaking, as although the sample size will be much smaller, the experimental design will be more robust, and the focus will be on understanding the underlying attitudes and motivations that people have to undertake the behaviours targeted by the courses. In other words, the evaluation is about continual improvement.

Which courses are being evaluated?

Along with NSAC, the National Motorway Awareness Course (NMAC), and the National RIDE Course (RiDE) will be evaluated. The online courses – Safe and Considerate Driving (SCD) and ‘What’s Driving Us?’ (WDU) – will also be covered. Finally, two new courses currently being designed (on seat belts and on cyclists) will be included.

   The courses all target different outcomes. For example the clear focus of NSAC is on knowledge about speed limits, attitudes towards speeding even at ‘low’ levels, and tips to choose lower speeds. On the other hand, the RiDE course focuses very much on thrill-seeing motivations. These differences will need to be taken into account in the evaluation materials.

How will the evaluation work?

TRL will be running, for each of the courses, a real-world randomised controlled trial. What does this mean? In essence – it means that people who want to take part in the study will be randomly allocated to receive their course either straight away when they book it, or after a delay of a few weeks. Surveys measuring the relevant outcomes (attitudes, knowledge, motivations and so-on) for each given course will then be sent in such a way that people in the ‘delay’ group receive all of theirs before they have taken their course, while those in the other group receive some before, and some after their course. 

   By comparing the survey scores of the two groups, we will be able to see any change in the ‘course’ group relative to the ‘delay’ group. If the courses are achieving their aims in terms of increasing knowledge, and making attitudes safer, we should be able to see this in the difference between the two groups over time.

   Finally, we will also be talking to a large number of course attendees and course providers to evaluate the way in which people think about the behaviours in question and how they perceive what the intended outcomes of the course are. This information will help to inform the study materials, and will be fed back into the design of future versions of the courses.