William Eichler 14 March 2018

Pollution reduced by signs prompting drivers to switch off engines

Pollution reduced by signs prompting drivers to switch off engines image

Strategically-placed road signs can help tackle air pollution by prompting drivers to turn their engines off at traffic lights, new research reveals.

A study conducted by the University of East Anglia (UEA) has revealed that road signs placed at a busy junction can lead to an increase in the number of people turning their engines off at red lights.

The signs used in the study, which cost £1,000 in total, had messages such as: ‘Turn off your engine when the traffic lights are red. You will improve air quality in this area.’

Before their introduction only 9.6% of people turned off their engine while waiting at a red light - this increased to 17% when a sign was present.

Carried out in collaboration with Norwich City Council and funded by Norfolk County Council’s Transport for Norwich initiative, the study also found motorists continued to switch of their engines after the signs were taken down.

‘Traffic and vehicle pollution is a primary contributor to poor air quality and idling traffic is of particular concern,’ said Dr Rose Meleady, a lecturer in psychology at UEA.

‘Our research shows that using psychological theory to inform the design of road signs can help bring about changes in driver behaviour.

‘Rather than simply telling people what do to, the signs are designed to tap into the underlying motivational basis for behaviour.’

‘While there are stop-start technologies being developed for cars, this is a simple, cheap, site-specific method of encouraging positive behaviour change,’ Dr Meleady continued.

‘It is also a good example of working together with local authorities on an important issue - how to get people to turn off their engines and ultimately reduce air pollution. We’d like to work with others in this way.’

Cllr John Fisher, chair of Norwich Highways Agency Committee, commented: ‘Air quality is an important issue facing cities across the country and work like this is a valuable step in understanding what measures we can take to keep emissions as low as possible.

‘Initial findings from the Riverside Road study are promising so we’d like to continue our collaboration with UEA and look for funding opportunities to explore this approach to behaviour change further.

‘We’re pleased to have supported the research through Transport for Norwich - it’s a real asset to have this sort of expertise on our doorstep and I’m delighted we’re using it to look at ways of addressing such an important subject.’

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