The idea of Nudging may have disappeared from the headlines for a while - but it is a concept very much alive and well in traffic management, it appears, given the quiet, but definite, success of something called ‘Operation Snap’.
Snap is an initiative managed by the Welsh Road Casualty reduction partnership GoSafe on behalf of all four Welsh Police forces (Dyfed-Powys, Gwent, North Wales and South Wales), so covering all 22 local authorities and 3m residents of the Principality.
Launched to allow members of the public to report road traffic offences using video and still images taken on their smartphones or helmet, bar and dash cameras and only live since December, the site, remarkably, is hailed as the main factor in an anticipated reduction in fatalities on the roads of an amazing 40% - with the team behind it believing if rolled out across the whole UK could save 650 lives every year.
The reason: as humans, we seem to behave better if we think we’re being watched, thinks the Partnership Manager at GoSafe, Teresa Ciano:
The idea behind Snap is that it will encourage compliance: there’s so much research showing that the ‘fear’ of being prosecuted or recorded alters driver behaviour.
Speed cameras work because people slow down to avoid a ticket, so we predicted people won’t take a chance and break the law when they know they may be recorded and that if they are recorded, the police will deal with the offence.”
So when GoSafe looked at the causes of collisions in Wales, it concentrated on the contributory factors where there was an “injudicious action” - that is that a driver involved in the collision made a mistake and/or broke the law.
Submit footage directly to Police networks
To deliver a solution for injudicious action infringements, Ciano and her team turned to technology from a UK-based software company called Egress Software Technologies, which specialises in providing a range of data security services designed to protect shared information, to build the Snap site. Its software is used to safely store and help law enforcement and safety specialists access the growing set of visual images (now 140 a month) being uploaded to the website by concerned witnesses and pedestrians, she says.
This technology has enabled Wales’s Police to make it far easier for the public to report incidents and also to upload their footage, and as government-approved levels of security are used at the back end of the Snap service so only selected team members can ever access it, it’s a very secure system, Ciano told diginomica government.
Why a website to do this? GoSafe says the previous system put in place to allow the public to submit footage to the Police was very laborious and time-consuming for citizens, while making a submission could take up to 15 hours of Police time to deal with. There was also no way the public could submit footage directly to Police networks due to data security issues, while there was no corporate decision-making process and so very little opportunity for formal action to be taken against offending drivers.
In response, Welsh lawmakers looked for a way to provide a secure digital solution so members of the public could submit any road safety footage directly and easily without the need to access secure police systems. Right from the start, security was a key project value, it seems, as Ciano notes that:
The solution enforces data encryption at rest and in transit, gives very granular permissions, and controls that determine how users of the system can interact with data. We also asked for extra data management protocols to ensure all information is stored properly.
The result of all this care and design is an online alternative to the less efficient ways of turning bad road behaviour, she says, that has cut that 15 hours to approximately 20 minutes of Police time per report.
Real savings in officer time
Great - but save time and convenience aren’t the only benefits of the new online approach to this digital nudging, she says:
Offending drivers are now being dealt with in a far more effective manner with a whole range of disposal options available, ranging from a warning letter, attendance on a driver improvement course, offer of a fixed penalty notice or summons to attend court. And for many near misses, we can intervene early and offer advice or update our intelligence systems, where relevant.
GoSafe isn’t willing to go public on the commercials of the project, but Ciano did confirm to us that
We are happy that it offers real savings in terms of savings in officer time.
The next step for Snap is to have yet more enhancements to make it even easier for public access, combined with plans to be able to inform members of the public of the outcome of cases they’ve submitted. But she’d also like to see it used much more widely than over the Severn Bridge, she concludes:
We would like the technology to be rolled out across the whole of the UK, then across the whole of Europe. That’s because we can also see other applications in policing and also for highways authorities, for example getting CCTV footage directly. The public could also report parking on yellow lines/junction box infractions to highways authorities.
Finally, no surprise that Welsh Police sees Snap as a perfect example of its wider digital enablement programme - as it’s about collaboration between four forces, is secure and effective can be replicated across many business areas.