Was it what you expected?

The task is…not so much to see what no one has yet seen; but to think what nobody has yet thought, about that which everybody sees.” – Erwin Schrödinger

 Drum roll .....here are the findings from the discovery phase.   They are underpinned by, secondary data analysis, user led research including; observations interviews, surveys and then refined using our Behavioural Mapping Approach.   If you want more info please pop your email into the box on our blog page and we'll send you our full suite of reports. 

Heat map showing where adult pedestrian collisions in Liverpool occur 

Heat map showing where adult pedestrian collisions in Liverpool occur 

Thing's we'd expected to find

Whether you're an expert in road safety or not, you won't be surprised to learn that there are peaks in collisions involving pedestrians at rush hour, at weekends, and in the run up to Christmas.  We also see peaks in periods of good weather  when people are out of their homes enjoying the sunshine.  

Nor will you be surprised to learn that hotspots, (areas where collisions are most likely to occur) are centred in locations where there is a higher density of pedestrians and drivers (city centre locations & high streets) and on faster roads where the impact of speed is more severe and therefore collisions are more likely to be reported.

You may be surprised to learn that in Liverpool 26% of collisions are recorded as a 'hit and run' but whilst this may seem shocking, it is not unusual. 

So far, all of this is pretty intuitive and not constrained to Liverpool. But as we progressed in our research a more nuanced and interesting local picture began to emerge.

 Here are a few of the key standouts for Liverpool.

  • Adult pedestrians in Liverpool are more likely to be involved in collisions on major arterial routes than pedestrians in other areas with similar road networks and similar socio demographic profiles (50% more likely). 
  • A disproportionate number of collisions in Liverpool involve taxis (14%). In the night time (between 9pm and 3am) this figure rises to 42%. 
  • If you are male, you are more likely to be involved in a collision as a pedestrian than if you are a female.  As a male driver, the odds increase dramatically, with 65% of all reported collisions involving male drivers as opposed to 19% female drivers and 16% unknown!
  • The majority of people involved in collisions (pedestrians and drivers) are living in relative poverty compared to the UK average.   Scarcity impedes a person's mental reserves, (bandwidth) reducing their ability to effectively process different types of information.  It also reduces their executive functions, (restraint and sustained attention).  This compounds the problem and makes pedestrians who fall into this category, (the majority of casualties in Liverpool)  more vulnerable on the roads.   This knowledge should be front of mind when designing  interventions.



Good insights act as a springboard, they inform our ideas and lead to the execution of a great solution. Good, usable insights cause people to comment "that's interesting" .  They elicit a combination of surprise mixed with recognition of something familiar.  They should resonate but also inspire.   Here are some of the more  interesting insights that emerged through our investigation.

lets start with an overarching insight.

Drivers and pedestrians are viewed through a different moral lens.  There is ongoing debate on issues relating to urban design,  in particular how transport planning has historically promoted traffic flow over the needs of walking and cycling.   An unintended consequence of this is that different types of road users are viewed through a different moral lens and often apportioned a different level of responsibility.    On this project, a barrier to enquiry has been that, when our questions turn to asking how we might aid pedestrians to adopt behaviours that lower their risk, these lines of enquiry are more likely to receive a label of  “victim blaming” or be deemed unproductive .  We get a very different response when we ask similar questions about how we might change driver behaviour.   We understand why some people might feel this way, but from an innovation perspective this view is unhelpful.  We are effectively restricting what is possible in terms of solutions, by presenting certain lines of enquiry as ‘off limits’.  For the greatest chance of success we need to be open to all of the issues and all potential avenues for solutions.


key insights linked to identified problem areas.

You will know from previous blogs that our focus has narrowed to consider issues related to the night time economy, taxi drivers and arterial routes.  Here are the insights that will guide the next phase of delivery.

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1. Driver and pedestrian behaviours alter when deliberate eye-contact is established. The effect of “eyeballing”  or even images of eyes as uncovered in wider psychological studies may be caused by a social exchange heuristic that works to enhance mutual cooperative behaviour.



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2 The ‘Pedestrian Village’ effect.   On arterial routes drivers will move through different types of urban areas in quick succession, potentially at a faster rate than they are able to process changes of usage.  This results in a scarcity of attention with drivers ‘looking but not seeing’ pedestrians.  Often known as  in-attentional blindness, this explains "a situation in which a stimulus that is not attended to is not perceived, even though a person is looking directly at it.”     Compare this to your experience of approaching  a village moving from  areas of low urbanisation into a built up area.  There are lots of visual cues which alert drivers to change of usage giving them time to re-adjust the focus of their attention.  It is very different in urban areas.

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3. Many taxi drivers are driving at a sub optimal level due to fatigue. This in turn is due to increased market pressures.  As it gets more difficult to earn a living, drivers are working longer hours to achieve the same basic income.   Some are self-medicating and using cocaine as a stimulant.  This may in part explain why collisions involving taxi drivers in Liverpool are significantly higher than in similar urban locations.


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4.  Pedestrian crossings have diminishing returns Crossings are fixed in a specific location, but when shops, pubs, etc close or are relocated, this alters the  'desire lines' of pedestrians. Unless crossings are reviewed and adapted to reflect these new desire lines,  they risk becoming the dinosaur of engineering

A secondary issue is that a high number of observed pedestrians execute their route via ‘sight-line’, which involves taking the shortest route to their intended destination,  This often resulted in ‘diagonal’ road crossing.   Diagonal crossing appears to be an unconscious (system 1) mode of thinking rather than as a result of a more deliberative, and analytical mode of thinking (system 2 ).   The impact of this, is that pedestrians are on the road longer than they need to be and barriers to entry (railings) can become barriers to exit particularly when a pedestrian is drunk or confused.  

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5 You can’t tell someone who’s drunk what to do!  A campaign based on education or awareness raising about the dangers of walking when drunk or on drugs will have limited impact.  This is for two reasons firstly, because people are already aware that ‘drunk/drug crossing’ increases risk (65% out of a sample size of 51 participants) and secondly because we know that  mental capacity (bandwidth) which includes, self control, attention and ability to decode information are all diminished when a person is ‘under the influence’. 

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6 An increasing population cohort are using cocaine as a way to increase their ‘recreational stamina’ when drinking.    We also know that due to various changes in law, (such as the Licensing Act 2003) and an ageing population that has a more liberal attitude towards recreational drugs, there is a normalised attitude to  the usage of cocaine in the average weekend drinking population. People who may appear to be functioning relatively normally on a combination of drugs and alcohol will respond in unpredictable and sub optimal ways when presented with a novel or dangerous situation.  

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7 Observational studies examining the effect of mobile phone use on street crossing behaviour have found that pedestrians cross more slowly when conversing on a mobile phone, are less likely to look at traffic before entering the road, and make more unsafe crossings compared to non-distracted pedestrians.




So that's it from us for now.  If you have further thoughts on any of these insights tweet us a @so_mo_co and don't forget to follow our blog to see where we go next!

Nicola Wass