Blog: Just being nice is not enough

Twitter erupted last week in a mixture of disbelief and satire over the Scotland Government’s new Nice Way Code campaign (@Nicewaycode). The £500,000 poster and campaign, officially launched last Sunday, is using the art of persuasion on road users with the strap line: “Let’s all get along. Follow the nice way code.”

Nice Way Code researchers say that people admit they “sometimes overtake cyclists too fast and run red lights (by bike and car)”, deciding an effective response would be to ask them to be nice.

There’s nothing wrong with asking people to behave better. Cognitive behavioural change theories suggest people are influenced by their society, and incentives, both positive and negative.
The problem is the campaign does nothing about those with, as they put it, “extreme views” for whom persuasion will do little, and offers no real incentives against flouting laws.

The evidence shows that penalties work. France once had one of the worst safety records in Europe in 2001 when a ‘zero tolerance’ policy was adopted over speeding offences, with investment in speed cameras and road traffic policing. By 2007 road deaths had dropped by 43% and by 2004 found 45% of French drivers surveyed had altered their behaviour due to fear of punishment.

The 4000 people who attended this year’s Pedal on Parliament in Edinburgh weren’t standing at the roadside asking road users to remember their manners. They were calling for government to make Scotland a cycle friendly nation, with slower traffic speeds and, unsurprisingly, better road traffic law and enforcement.

As Graeme Obree put it during the protest: “I come here to enlighten our politicians that we’re not asking for spending here, but an investment, where young people can cycle freely and without fear.” 
Being considerate is something we can all do, but society also needs to show a bit of conviction and penalise those who break the law.

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