The Flemish Foundation for Traffic Knowledge (Vlaamse Stichting Verkeerskunde (VSV) is rolling out a comprehensive programme of road safety training and an awareness campaign that is supporting the achievement of the vision zero across the Flanders region in the north of Belgium.
This initiative, which is funded by the Government of Flanders, targets mobility actors across government and civil society (including driving instructors) as it seeks to improve car driving behaviour across society, from students to the police force, so creating long-term benefits for road safety.
Road fatalities are an important cause of concern for transport authorities and other mobility stakeholders. Injuries sustained as a result of road traffic incidents are the leading cause of death among young people aged between 5 and 29, with, on average, 3,700 people globally (EU27 and OECD countries) losing their lives every day on the roads.
As cities and regions seek to reduce this figure, there is a pressing need for a long-term approach to road safety that extends beyond infrastructural measures (such as speed bumps, signage and cameras) towards a wholesale behavioural change. From Bilbao to Brussels, European cities are instituting campaigns to build consensus around justice on the roads and to promote responsibility for road safety.
Flanders is taking a leading role in this action by earmarking €124 million for road safety, investing in updating dangerous intersections, monitoring technologies and enforcing speed-limit regimes. Another €355 million will be invested in improving cycling infrastructure.
To actively support this movement, VSV’s education and awareness programmes and campaigns strive for zero road casualties across the Flanders region and encourage a shift towards more active transport modes such as cycling.
VSV adopts a cross-sector approach, engaging with a wide spectrum of mobility stakeholders. By running courses for local authorities, police forces, driving instructors and school groups, the programme is pursuing a comprehensive shift in the way road safety is conceived and engaged with across the board. VSV organises approximately 15,000 hours of training a year for this purpose, directly reaching more than 66,000 people annually.
Alongside the training programmes, VSV coordinates a series of public awareness campaigns(link is external) around traffic safety that cover distraction, speed intoxicated driving, drowsiness and the use of child seats. VSV’s campaigns use different media, including radio, the internet, billboards and buses.
These are accompanied by a campaign that encourages cycling as a means of healthy, cheap and enjoyable transport. Encouraging cycling for commuting is a key aim. With more than half of Flemish residents living less than 15 kilometres from their work, VSV is promoting the use of the bike for journeys to work. The region is already seeing positive results. According to post-test data of the 2020 cycling campaign, 39% of those who viewed the campaign considered cycling as a possibility to go to work/school.
VSV’s pan-regional approach is key to its success. It is working across 300 municipalities, engaging over 800,000 participants across Flanders.
As noted by the Flemish Transport minister, Lydia Peeters, ‘Zero road deaths, the so-called Vision Zero, is not a distant dream of the future but is surprisingly close at the local level. International figures show that more than 800 medium-sized cities and municipalities in Europe have succeeded in achieving this objective in recent years. Progress is indeed possible, provided that sufficient efforts are made and a systematic approach is taken.’
School aged groups have been a key target audience for VSV’s activities, with cycle and pedestrian safety courses brought into schools. For example, The Big Traffic Test is an online test for fifth grade primary school children. Students are prepared in advance via monthly lessons, each having a different theme (such as road signs and behaviour). To pass the test, students need to score at least 14 out of 20. In Bruges, participation has been encouraged through a range of innovative measures, successfully attracting 500 pupils from 16 primary schools.
Municipalities are also encouraged to engage with road safety in a comprehensive way. Participants in workshops gain insights into current bottlenecks and learn how they can further develop their policies in the short and longer term, as well as how they can achieve better results by aligning various measures. Municipalities are then awarded a ‘SAVE’ (or ‘traffic safe’) label, which recognises their actions. This training is conducted in collaboration with professional coaching organisation, Tridee.
Crucially, this is a process rather than single achievement. The coaching programme starts with a self-evaluation, followed by setting objectives and drawing up a concrete plan of action that revolves around five pillars:
- Policy and organisation.
- Education and communication.
- Monitoring and evaluation.
The coaching is reinforced by peer support networks through the Flemish Road Safety Forum (VFV), a consultation platform that brings together stakeholders in the field of road safety in Flanders. The first impact/outcome results will be available next year when the province of Antwerp will track the progress of the participating municipalities towards the ultimate goal of zero deaths and serious injuries as a result of road traffic incidents.
Evaluating and reflecting on success is a key part of the method. The evaluation of the process is undertaken on a yearly basis, where municipalities rate the outcome on a scale of 1 to 5. So far, 33% of municipalities have given 5 points for the usefulness of the coaching programme for local road safety policy, while 67% gave 4 points or more for the structure of the programme. Critically, 67% gave 4 points or more to the element of the programme that enabled them to exchange views with participants from other municipalities, thus demonstrating the value of such a collaborative learning approach.
Challenges, opportunities and transferability
The hybrid approach to learning and training offers an insight into how networking, training and capacity building for mobility can be coordinated as Europe emerges from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. VSV has fused online and in-person courses, on-site visits, workshops and conferences, which enables group and individual learning.
VSV’s model also offers insights for how other municipalities – currently rolling out road safety campaigns – can reinforce and build on these efforts by instituting more comprehensive attitudinal change around car use. For example, the 30 City project in Brussels, which has lowered speeds to 30 km/hour almost everywhere in the city, could benefit from such training programmes to develop the necessary consensus to maintain momentum.
The coaching programme also revealed interesting findings about the optimum governance structure for road safety policy at a cross-municipal level. Flanders already cooperates with neighbouring regions on several mobility topics including cycling infrastructure, public transport, parking and highway maintenance. For shared issues between Flanders and the Brussels region, the Flemish transport minister develops a model for structural interregional cooperation and decision-making in consultation with the Brussels-Capital Region. The principles of cooperation between the two regions are laid down in cooperation agreements, and an overarching MOU (memorandum of understanding) is also being negotiated with the Brussels-Capital Region.
Cross-municipal cooperation over traffic measures creates coherent and streamlined management (for example, routing policies affect traffic flow in neighbouring municipalities) as well as ensuring that districts between urban centres have effective safety infrastructure. Indeed, such collaboration has been demonstrated in the Spanish region of Pontevedra where the regional government (Deputación de Pontevedra) is establishing a network of municipalities to provide peer support.
VSV’s programme highlighted the importance of working with police forces for improving enforcement and data analysis. For example, data on speeds, accidents and traffic flow are useful for municipal policy, and the follow-up and evaluation of projects.