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.
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).
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
To the best of our knowledge, using time as a penalty for speeding is not in use in other countries. We have also not come across articles, studies nor measurement results of a similar approach or experiment. The continued international interest towards our approach is another testament to its uniqueness: its mentioning in various media articles, newsletters and podcasts, as well as at international conferences on road and traffic safety.
This apparently simple shift in thinking was born out of a human-centric approach. Rather than approaching speeding as a conscious decision to break the law, we analysed the traffic culture in Estonia on its widest terms: how is speeding defined, how average drivers see themselves compared to others, how behaviour and choices are rationalised, what are widely-accepted norms and what are seen as the biggest problems in daily situations.
What is the current status of your innovation?
In the first stage, during the autumn of 2019, the Time-Out Station was tested on two occasions. In these instances, due to the current legislative framework, the time-out option was presented as a choice. We have analysed the gathered data and drawn initial conclusions.
We are currently pursuing changing the legislation in order to introduce time as a potential punitive measure alongside monetary fines and other existing measures. This would allow us to develop the idea further and carry out more assessments of its impact. We are also exploring ways to measure the long-term effects of the Time-Out Station.
Collaborations & Partnerships
The Project Manager from the Government Office has a background in social anthropology. Ministry of the Interior was represented by an Innovation Adviser (background in policy design) and a Law Enforcement Adviser (background in traffic policy). Representatives from the Estonian Police and Border Guard Board and the Road Administration have long careers in traffic policing, but also included members with technology expertise. The team also benefited from the input of a behavioural scientist.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
This intervention has the potential to affect everyone in Estonia who participates in traffic, either on foot or in a vehicle. Studies (from the European Transport Safety Council) have indicated that if the average speed in Europe could be decreased by 1 km/h, it would save 2100 lives each year.
As mentioned above, this experiment’s positive reception has encouraged the public sector in Estonia to try out more innovative ideas on a small scale before formulating them into legislative acts.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
The interventions were carried out on a motorway (speed limit 90 kmph) between the cities of Rapla and Tallinn. The outcome was 16 out of 28 (57%) drivers eligible for the time-out, preferring it over the conventional fine. The speed of the drivers who were involved in the experiment was measured 3 km and 9 km after exiting the stop, as was the speed of all other vehicles passing by.
As this was the first explorative study into using time as a penalty for speeding, the main focus was to gather qualitative data on the reaction of drivers and the wider society. Also, we saw it necessary to ensure that this intervention did not have an opposite effect of increasing speeding – which it didn't. This suggests that drivers are unlikely to try to make up the time lost by driving faster.
In addition, the post-time-out telephone interviews with the drivers revealed that it had been a memorable event and had made them pay more attention to their speeds after the intervention.
Challenges and Failures
Ideally, we would have wanted to run a randomised controlled trial to measure the impact of a time-out versus a conventional fine. This, however, turned out to be impossible since the current legislation (rightly) does not allow to allocate punishments randomly. Thus we are unable to determine the real impact of a time-out on the subsequent drivers’ behaviour.
In general, assessing the impact of measures on individual drivers’ behaviour is challenging, since registered offences do not provide an adequate overview of their behaviour nor its actual change on a daily basis.
Also, since the main insight out of this project was an understanding that the social norm has to change, we acknowledge that it is a long and difficult endeavour.
Conditions for Success
This innovation started with strong and bold leadership in the public sector that encouraged the team to come up with solutions that had not been tried out before. This requires attitudes that value experimentations in devising public policy.
Such interventions are challenging within existing legal frameworks, hence there is a need for legal sandboxes and a wider agreement in the society as well as within the public sector on how to conduct policy trials (incl. the research, ethical and legal perspectives).
Our experiment gained from transparency – we informed the public through media beforehand as well as during and after the events. This allowed us to explain the rationale and reasons for such undertakings, and initiate a valuable discussion in the society.
Support from the wider society is of utmost value in order to create a shift in public attitudes towards speeding and its contributing effect to the increase of risk for all people involved in traffic situations.
In our view this innovation has great potential and could be used in many other countries. We are eagerly hoping that other countries would experiment with the Time-Out Station, so that more data would emerge to measure its impact. As noted earlier, this idea’s scalability lies in technology, which would allow to fully automate the measure.
As this intervention was being developed, we assumed that people would value time more than money. We carried out a pre-test, where people caught speeding were posed with a hypothetical choice of a time-out vs the amount of a fine corresponding with the offence – the outcome was only ⅓ of drivers being willing to take a time-out. Contrary to our expectations, during the actual interventions, more people favoured the time-out (57%), regardless of their excuses for speeding generally being that they were in a hurry.
In hindsight, it is evident, that when faced with a choice, drivers are inclined to choose the more convenient and personally suitable option. We observed, however, that drivers took time weighing the options, taking into account their daily arrangements, duties, and the value of time vs the value of money (e.g. the amount of the fine in comparison to their hourly salary rate; missing a ferry abroad, etc).
It must also be noted, that the overwhelmingly positive reaction from the drivers involved in the experiment was undoubtedly related to having the freedom to choose. Therefore, we see it necessary to test time as a punitive measure also in the conditions of it being assigned rather than chosen, in order to analyse how this affects the outcomes.
Also, the value of even small-scale testing is indisputable. Neither the lengthy discussions in preparation for the intervention, nor the use of legos to create and play through the situation and attempt to foresee details and events that may emerge at the Time-Out Station, could not predict nor forecast the actual outcomes. A myriad of aspects, such as the weather, the social dynamics in the location, the reactions of drivers as well as passers-by, the public reaction, etc only become apparent when actual trials are carried out. Also – as was notable in our case – the outcomes of the pre-test wrongly predicted the willingness to choose time-out.
- Implementation - making the innovation happen
- Evaluation - understanding whether the innovative initiative has delivered what was needed
10 November 2021