A new way to transform road safety culture in Ontario

Aug 23, 2011

A new way to transform road safety culture in OntarioThe biggest risk Ontarians face each day as they go to work is a collision on the road. Motor vehicle incidents continue to be the greatest single cause of, and account for more than 30% of, all Ontario worker fatalities. This number increases to 45% when we include powered industrial vehicles or mobile industrial equipment in the workplace.
Government, businesses and other organizations have successfully implemented many solutions in the past 20 years, with the result that motor vehicle incident statistics have been trending downward. While we’ve made good progress, it’s worth acknowledging that what has contributed to our success in the past might not be what we need to get the rest of the way.
Health & Safety Ontario (HSO) approached this challenge by hosting a three-day Motor Vehicle Safety Institute in June 2011, to explore a new way to help eliminate injuries and fatalities resulting from motor vehicle incidents on roads and in workplaces: positive community norms (PCNs).
How HSO is pressing PCNs into action

More than 50 individuals from approximately 40 Ontario industry, prevention system, government, community, and other organizations participated in the Institute to explore how PCNs – a powerful and proven path to prevention – can enable both change and a sustainable transformation.

During the three days, participants formed a community around this important issue. Many individuals agreed to join a Motor Vehicle Safety PCN Community of Practice, created to foster learning and application of the PCN model, as well as keep participants, and others who are interested, connected and engaged. Several other participants stepped up to join the founding members of the Motor Vehicle Safety Action Committee, the driving force behind the work started in 2010 on how to reduce motor vehicle incidents (MVIs) in Ontario, using the seven-step positive community norms process.

“This approach takes patience,” said Elizabeth Mills, president and CEO, Workplace Safety & Prevention Services (WSPS), in her opening address. “We are embarking on a multi-year transformation. As leaders, we tend to leap at solutions, which causes momentum initially, but often leaves us not knowing if we’ve created something sustainable. Prevention is about growing positive community norms through a transformation in culture, and that takes time.”

How PCNs work

Prevention calls on us to think upstream, to resist the temptation to dive into solutions. Too often, speed covers flaws in our thinking. Enforcement is important but often doesn’t have the presence or staying power to affect, in a deeply felt, lasting way, what most people in a community typically do or believe; i.e. community norms.

PCN is an approach designed to engage many different stakeholders in transforming a community’s safety culture. It is founded on the philosophy known as The Science of the Positive®, developed by Dr. Jeff Linkenbach, who is a pioneer in the area of the social norms approach to prevention and Director of the Center for Health and Safety Culture at Montana State University, and who facilitated the three-day institute. Research shows that people are motivated to change their perceptions and behaviours, and fulfill their potential, when the message is grounded in what’s positive and good about themselves, others, and the world around them.

Growing PCNs through cultural transformation requires a slow, incremental build, based on three critical and interdependent core elements: spirit, science and action. The reward is sustainability. It occurs by

  • revisiting long-held assumptions and surfacing the positive, healthy, normative attitudes and behaviours that already exist within us and that we instinctively want to grow (spirit)
  • comparing what Ontarians perceive to be true about motor vehicle safety and what science tells us is true (often there’s a gap) (science)
  • identifying what steps we need to take to change what people believe and how they act (action).

How Ontario businesses will benefit

Transforming our road safety culture could have a tremendous impact on the costs – social and financial – of motor vehicle incidents. In 2007, Transport Canada produced a report, Analysis and estimation of the social cost of motor vehicle collisions, that used 2004 data. This is the most recent report available. Here are some excerpts:

  • motor vehicle collisions in Ontario in 2004 had a social cost of $17.9 billion
  • although fatal collisions accounted for less than 1% of the 231,548 Highway Traffic Act (HTA) reportable collisions, they represented $11.5 billion or 64% of total estimated social costs in 2004
  • injury collisions comprise 27% of all collisions and 27% or $5.0 billion of all costs
  • Property Damage Only (PDO) collisions – while the largest collision group at 73% – resulted in $1.3 billion or 8% of social costs
  • collisions involving larger trucks represented only 7% of all collisions, 18% of fatal collisions and 15% ($3 billion) of the social costs
  • other major contributors to the social costs of motor vehicle collisions included traffic delays, out-of-pocket expenses, hospital/health care, towing, and police, fire and ambulance services.

The report identifies social costs of motor vehicle collisions as follows:

  • direct costs: property damage, emergency response, hospital care, other medical care and insurance administration, out-of-pocket expenses by victims of motor vehicle collisions, and traffic delays (lost time, extra fuel use, environmental pollution)
  • indirect costs: human consequences of collisions, such as partial and total disability of victims, activity and workdays lost – as well as the pain and suffering of victims and their families.

How we’ll get there

The Center for Health and Safety Culture at Montana State University will work with HSO to plan and refine key aims of this multi-year initiative, which includes developing a research plan to identify baseline data, begin message development and design a communication and evaluation plan.

Through the Motor Vehicle Safety Action Committee, representatives from Ontario businesses across all sectors will serve as contributing architects of the plan, in collaboration with the Ministry of Labour, Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, HSO, and other agencies and organizations.

A key assumption of Positive Community Norms is that solutions exist in communities. Thus, the work of the Action Committee and larger community of interested stakeholders will be to cultivate solutions that reduce motor vehicle incidents in Ontario. The end goal of this multi-year initiative will be to transform culture, supported by the development of a social marketing campaign that is timeless, inclusive, and inspiring enough to compel all the contributing individuals, groups and organizations, now and in the future, to connect with it, in their own way.

“The most important thing we need to see,” said participants at the Institute, “is a focused, consistent message that all community members can get behind.”

What you can do

You are invited to join the online Motor Vehicle Safety PCN Community of Practice to stay connected with the community formed at the Institute. You can create an account to learn more about the purpose of the online community and to

  • review and comment on the summary report on the Motor Vehicle Safety Institute
  • build capacity within yourself and your organization on how positive community norms can influence safe driving
  • share, collaborate and contribute to conversations with our network of engaged stakeholders
  • engage in community conversations through scheduled webinars and discussion forums
  • continue learning how Ontario will apply the PCN model to build a motor vehicle safety culture, and participate and lend support where you are able.

How we can help

Visit the Motor Vehicles topic page for additional information and resources.