The Taichung Police Department on Tuesday said it would recall traffic safety posters found to contain the image of a Chinese police officer. The department said it would reprimand those responsible for the mistake and form an oversight committee for public announcement materials, but the real issue is that posters are a lazy and ineffective way to address road safety.
The department said it spent NT$5,300 on 5,000 posters — not an exorbitant sum — but why waste money on materials the public is likely to ignore, and that could end up harming the city’s image? Even if each poster had a positive effect on the driving habits of passersby, this would not have a significant impact on road safety in a city populated by millions.
Last week, the Kaohsiung Police Department was similarly criticized for distributing 18,000 road safety pamphlets over the Lunar New Year holiday that showed China’s national flag. A pamphlet, which the public is likely to discard without reading, is arguably even less effective than a poster.
These departments should take a cue from the Taipei Department of Transportation, which worked with the Ministry of Transportation and Communications to set up a road safety park for children and developed a road safety curriculum for elementary schools.
A road safety curriculum is especially important. Many countries have younger students learn about road safety in the classroom. Since 1986, the New South Wales Centre for Road Safety in Australia has provided materials and training on road safety for school children. The lower grades learn about pedestrian and passenger safety, while the upper grades learn about driver safety. The Brussels-based European Transport Safety Council provides all levels of EU schools with road safety education in compliance with the UN Convention on Road Traffic. While not all European countries provide the same content, most address road safety rules, traffic signs and pedestrian safety, as well as driving safety for the upper grades. Most school districts in the US and Canada provide road safety education in elementary schools, while many high schools in both countries offer optional driver education courses.
A study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information at the US National Library of Medicine found that the families of kindergarteners and elementary-school students who underwent a 10-week road safety course practiced safer driving, such as always wearing a seat belt in vehicles.
However, road safety programs in elementary schools are not a magic bullet. In rural areas of Taiwan, in particular, up to 40 percent of those involved in fatal traffic accidents are elderly motorists, ministry statistics from October last year showed.
Many fatal accidents involve dangerous habits, such as driving while texting or driving under the influence.
Although children who learn about road safety at school might influence some adults to adopt good driving habits, other adults might not change, or might not be around children with this type of education.
Driver safety campaigns on a large scale — such as public announcements on television and radio, and greater police presence on busy roadways — might help, but this must be accompanied by stricter enforcement. Drivers who think that there are no consequences for unsafe driving are less likely to change bad habits.
Road safety is a serious issue that must be addressed. Police departments that want to tackle it must commit themselves to stricter enforcement, while also working with schools to help educate children in the classroom.
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