20 December 2007

School programs and roadside engineering initiatives show more promise in the battle to reduce road deaths rather than expensive television advertising campaigns.

This is according to an international expert on injury deaths and injuries, who will deliver a seminar at The University of Queensland today.

International injury prevention specialist Dr Peter Barss said evaluation of graphic TV campaigns overseas had been found to have little effect. However, workshops in high schools, delivered by trained medical students, had shown statistically significant differences in safety knowledge and attitudes to road safety, as well as for HIV/AIDS.

“Two thousand grade 12 students participated in workshops in two major cities in the United Arab Emirates, where traffic injury rates are among the highest in the world.

“Evaluation showed it was effective in the short term. They had improved their knowledge and their attitudes had changed on the basis of this,” Dr Barss said.

He said interventions with high school students, particularly young males were a key to reducing deaths and injury from road accidents.

“Injury is the leading cause of death in children and young adults. Hence carefully evaluated safety and injury education for school curricula is essential in Australia and elsewhere,” Dr Barss said

Dr Barss, a Canadian specialist in Community Medicine and Public Health, currently with the Community Medicine Department of the United Arab Emirates University Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, will present a seminar today on the importance of developing a research basis for interventions (2.30pm at UQ’s School of Population Health, Herston).

“Piloting and evaluation to be sure they are effective are essential - otherwise school and media program can be a waste of money,” he said.

Road deaths were a major problem for most countries around the world where intervention programs were having varying degree of success. Understanding a country’s safety culture was an important factor, according to Dr Barss.

“There are varying degrees of a safety culture in different countries. In Sweden, people are very safety conscious. Energy absorbing roadside barriers are being introduced there. At the other end of the spectrum are developing countries, some of them very wealthy, where destiny and faith are strong beliefs and there is a fatalism associated with whether a road crash is going to happen. So wearing seat belts is not part of that safety culture. Australia is somewhere in between and local colleagues report evidence of a “macho” culture affecting safety behaviours, particularly in rural and northern parts,” Dr Barss said.

PLEASE NOTE Prof Barss is available for interview this afternoon between 3.30pm – 5.30pm.

Media inquiries: Faculty Communications Officer, Marlene McKendry - 0401 99 6847.