Win a Minute, Lose an Hour: Time-Out Station for Speeding Drivers

The number of traffic accidents resulting in human casualties have not shown any significant decrease in Estonia over the past ten years. While velocity is one of the factors to significantly increase the severity of the consequences, user-centric approaches also lead to the realisation that in Estonia speeding is a widely accepted social norm. An innovative approach was developed in order to test the effect of losing time, instead of money, as a potential measure to affect drivers’ behaviour.

Innovation Summary

Innovation Overview

The number of traffic accidents resulting in human casualties has not shown any significant decrease in Estonia over the past ten years, regardless of various efforts. The Public Sector Innovation Team applied design thinking methods in order to gain a user-centric view on the problem. Interviews conducted with drivers lead to a number of insights. First, that exceeding the speed limits is a socially accepted norm both within the urban areas as well as on motorways. Even more so, driving at or somewhat slower than the allowed speed is frowned upon as it is seen as disrupting the traffic flow. Second, the interviewees admitted that traffic fines, especially those registered by automated cameras, have no effect on neither the behaviour nor the values and attitudes of the driver—these fines are widely treated as a form of road tax.

However, what also emerged from these conversations, was the drivers’ condemnation for the time lost when they needed to wait while being issued a fine along the road-side, or when at earlier times they had to visit the police department to retrieve their licenses in case of more serious offences. Also, many drivers have admitted that a discussion with a police officer after an offence that has not resulted in issuing a fine, has had a considerably bigger emotional effect on them.

These insights lead the team to wonder whether time could be used as a form of penalty alongside monetary fines, suspending a driver's license, etc. During the autumn of 2019 we tested “Rahunemispeatus”, i.e. “Time-out Station” on Estonian motorways. When a speeding was registered by the police, the driver was stopped. If they had no pre-existing traffic-related offences, they were offered a choice: either to pay a fine or wait by the roadside and continue their trip after a certain time had passed. The duration of the time-out was either 45 or 60 minutes, depending on whether they had exceeded the speed limit up to 20 kmph or 21-30 kmph. The time spent on time-out was informed by a snow-ball study (400 participants) designed to determine a compelling enough threshold.

The value of this innovation is manifold. First, it has encouraged the Estonian Police to trial new approaches that rely on a better understanding of human behaviour. Also, it is an exemplary case for the public sector to illustrate why new policies including punitive measures should be tested and measured, as the effect and reception of such interventions cannot be foreseen.

The extensive national and international media coverage of the Time-Out Station also initiated a valuable discussion in the Estonian society about speeding and the effectiveness of current traffic penalties. Considering that the root causes of speeding lie in the social norms and that speeding was generally not seen to be problematic by the interviewees, it is remarkable that the approach was so well-received by the public. It is notable that people endorsed its egalitarian approach—with the traffic fines being flat in Estonia, it was argued that a fine of 60 EUR hurts a less well-off person disproportionately more than a wealthy one, while 60 minutes is equally 60 minutes out of anyone’s life. In addition, the society has viewed this approach as a sincere effort on behalf of the police to affect drivers’ behaviour versus issuing fines – which is often seen as filling the state budget. Therefore, it demonstrated how a proposed penalty policy can be conceived by the society to be both necessary and fair.

This intervention required significant resources (8-10 patrol police officers per one 3 hour run) which makes it a format that could be used occasionally to draw attention to roads where speeding considerably heightens the likelihood of severe consequences to health and safety. However, there is great potential for scalability through technology: with point-to-point cameras, increasingly in use, it is possible to fully automate the Time-Out Station, where prior to the arrival into major destinations (e.g. a city), an area is set aside on the motorway and electronic boards list the vehicles that need to drive to the kerbside and take a time-out.

Currently we are exploring ways to change the legislation in order to introduce time as a form of penalty. Thereafter, we shall continue testing variations of this intervention, and shall look into ways to monitor and measure drivers’ behaviour both on short-term (i.e. right after the intervention) as well as long-term (e.g. within months after the intervention).

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