Prevention in action

Birmingham’s projected population growth of 150,000 people by 2031, will create 1.2 million additional daily trips by all transport modes. In response to this, the Birmingham Connected Transport vision is working to create a safer, greener, healthier city where people who live, work, study in, or visit the city can choose to walk, cycle or take public transport instead of using private cars. Collaborative and innovative working is at the heart of its implementation and engaging and empowering children and parents is a vital part of this.

Developing a joint road safety strategy

In 2016, as part of the Birmingham Connected strategy, a Road Safety Strategy for Birmingham was developed, which sets out an action plan to reduce the number and severity of road traffic collisions, with a focus on the most vulnerable road users in the city – children, adult pedestrians, cyclists, 16 to 24 year olds and motorcyclists. The action plan is being delivered by the Birmingham Road Safety Partnership, which includes West Midlands Police, West Midlands Fire Service and Birmingham City Council, working alongside communities, schools and businesses. The work is evidence-led to ensure resources are targeted appropriately, and is responsive to emerging road safety issues.

A focus on partnership

Road safety delivery is co-ordinated to maximise the benefits and impact of the limited resources available. Partnership working is essential given the complexity of road safety and to bring together resources, knowledge, innovation and expertise. With this in mind, activities are undertaken in partnership with a range of other organisations including the NHS, neighbouring local authorities, businesses and voluntary organisations.

As part of this Road Safety Partnership, the city council has embedded a road safety culture in all its activities and programmes. The work receives strategic support from the Cabinet Member for Transport and Environment.

Doing more with less

Jenny Coombs is a Principal Transportation Behaviour Change Officer at Birmingham City Council. She has worked for the City Council for 15 years, and 10 of those were in road safety and sustainable travel. She has seen a number of structural changes during that decade. Initially the focus of her work was road safety education, and this programme was delivered to the city’s 500 plus schools by council officers. In more recent years this focus expanded to include the promotion of greener, healthier AND safer travel

Jenny says: ‘Over the years our remit has grown and our staff numbers have reduced, so  we’ve had to find ways to do more with less.  We couldn’t continue to deliver road safety education in the same way so we had to look at new ways of working by focusing on an enabling approach.’

Thinking outside the box

A meeting with the behaviour intervention agency, So-Mo at a road safety conference, enabled Jenny and her colleagues to start thinking ‘outside the box’. So-Mo helped the team to recognise the importance of understanding how people actually behave, instead of relying on what people say they will do.   Using ethnographic research (where researchers observe and interact with participants in real environments) and testing ideas within relevant contexts, the team was able to design creative, cost-effective, innovative solutions, and ways to measure results, ensuring that there is appropriate data to demonstrate the impact they are having.

Implementing a 20mph limit for residential areas

In early 2015 Birmingham’s Cabinet approved proposals to implement 20 mph speed limits on residential roads in four pilot areas in Birmingham.

‘Not everyone was in favour of this decision and we recognised that the physical elements of the scheme needed to be accompanied by a publicity campaign to persuade people of the benefits of driving at 20mph on residential roads, ‘Jenny explains. ‘The overall campaign approach has been about recognising that people’s behaviour is largely shaped by the behaviour of others around them. If they perceive that their neighbours are positive about the introduction of the 20mph in their street and that other drivers are adhering to the new limit, then they’re more likely to follow suit. So we took a ‘’co-productive’’ approach to this piece of work.’

Under the banner of ‘Slower is Safer’, a campaign was launched to work with community groups, residents, businesses and schools, so that communities could deliver appropriate messages and activities in their own areas. This was delivered in partnership with a number of key organisations such as West Midlands Fire Service, West Midlands Police and Birmingham Children’s Hospital.

The Slower is Safer campaign

‘In the past we might just have just gone to events and given out leaflets, but we created a more interactive campaign and developed a suit of toolkits – one for communities, one for partner agencies, one for businesses and one schools’ Jenny says.

Some of the activities which have been introduced include:

  • A Kids Court – where drivers who were stopped by the police for being over the speed limit outside schools were offered the chance to receive a fine/penalty points or speak with specially trained year 5 and 6 school pupils, who would question them and hold them accountable for their actions. The ‘proceedings’ were then shared on social media. This approach had a high impact on drivers and has also been enhanced by a video of children asking impactful questions, which police showed to speeding drivers.
  • Fleet Waste Management services wanted to show their support for the campaign, so the Transportation Behaviour Change team offered a competition to schools, for children to design a poster to display on all the sides of bin lorries.
  • The Fire service kitted out all their engines and appliances with Slower is Safer banners
  • Working in partnership with the Department of Work and Pensions, The Transportation Behaviour Change Team developed an eight-week work experience programme for job seekers to become community champions, who then took out messages about the 20mph limit into their own communities.
  • Feedback from these community champions led to the design of more resources e.g. signs for lamp columns which residents could personalise, to help drivers recognise that this was a street where children lived and played.
  • Balsall Health Residents Forum chose ‘Slower is Safer’ as the theme for their annual carnival. They were given a small grant by the Transportation Behaviour Change Team and created all their own resources.
  • A video was created to address the concerns of the public about money spent on reducing speed limits. This showed the real ‘costs’ of a collision and the ripple effects on the emergency services and the wider community (in addition to the family)
  • A new Community Speed watch scheme has been launched across the West Midlands which will empower community volunteers to address concerns about inappropriate traffic speed with support from their local neighbourhood policing teams. West Midlands Police are currently training community volunteers to monitor the speeds of vehicles with approved speed detection devices.

Modeshift STARS

In 2015 the Transportation Behaviour Change Team adopted the Department for Transport funded ‘Modeshift STARS’ scheme to recognise schools’ promoting walking, cycling and other means of sustainable transport.

Nearly half of the city’s schools have signed up and many of these are now actively implementing a travel plan, with support from the team.

Recognising that it wasn’t possible to regularly go out to each of the schools who had signed up, the team developed a Continuing Professional Development (CPD) programme for teachers and school staff. There are four sessions on offer – signing up to Modeshift Stars, getting accredited, Road Stars and Clean Air Cops.  Initially the sessions were delivered at a venue in the city centre but this wasn’t possible for all schools to access, so the team looked for different ways to deliver this within local areas.

Working with a company called SKIPS – which was set up by a father who was developing resources to help parents support their children with homework topics – resources were developed to enable teachers to deliver lessons to year 5s around road safety and preventing air pollution, and for pupils to take home and use with their parents.

The Council provides a small budget allocation for road safety activities, which reduces annually as it faces cut backs (along with other councils across the country). This allowed the purchase of initial Road Stars resources but recently they’ve had to look at more creative ways to do this.  The Council has recently asked the Government to support a clean air zone around Birmingham and Jenny’s team has obtained funding from the Clean Air Fund to produce more of these resources. 

School Gate Parking

As with most authorities, Birmingham’s staff were constantly asked by schools how to tackle the problems of parents parking on zig zag lines and causing danger to child pedestrians, as well as congestion and air pollution.

Jenny says: ‘Schools sometimes ask us to provide more car parking, but we want to encourage parents to leave their cars at home or park further away from the school.  West Midlands Police were doing some school gate parking enforcement but we found that not all parents were aware of what the zig zag lines outside school meant so it was important to deliver education around this.’

Using funding from the Council’s Community Safety Partnership, West Midlands Fire Service and Jenny’s team put together activity boxes to support schools in addressing school gate parking. These boxes included items such as a banner for the school gate, pledge forms which pupils and parents could use to write on and then photograph themselves and post on social media, and metal cut out ‘dollies’ with interchangeable messages such as ‘Show you care, park elsewhere’.  The pilot scheme was carried out with eight activity boxes which were loaned for a month to individual schools who were taking part in the Modeshift Stars scheme and were identified as having significant problems.

NSL (a private company who operate in local and central government, providing, among other things, parking enforcement) ticketed cars before and after the use of the boxes to measure the impact of their use. If a school continued to have high levels of illegal parking after this period, then the team would contact West Midlands Police to deliver further enforcement.

‘We have very close relationships with the police and as part of Operation Park Safe they have trained police community support officers and neighbourhood policing teams to deliver parking operations. These officers do some education work outside the school – handing out leaflets, talking to motorists and enforcing regulations with fines,’ Jenny explains. 

In response to the success of the pilot, the scheme has now been extended and 30 boxes have been purchased. NSL have also agreed to run 10 Road Safety sessions for schools, using these resources, as part of their corporate social responsibility activity.

Young Active Travel initiative

This charity, established by the city council in 2016, aims to encourage pupils and parents to adopt more sustainable ways of getting to and from school – helping to improve their own health and that of the wider community by reducing traffic congestion and the risk of accidents as well as decreased air pollution from vehicles. The Young Active Travel Trust will support schools and parents in applying for grants to develop safe and sustainable school travel plans.

Living Streets

The Transportation Behavioural Change Team works closely with the UK walking charity, Living Streets, which has a goal of ensuring that every child who can, is enabled to walk to school. The charity’s officer in Birmingham is based within Jenny’s team and delivers sessions in schools and offers incentives, such as badges which children will want to collect. 

Challenges and benefits of working collaboratively and creatively

These are some of the challenges and benefits Birmingham has experienced in delivering this new approach:


  • There was some resistance to switching to new ways of working, when direct work with schools had been so well received
  • Partners have their individual agendas which can divert the focus of initiatives e.g. during joint school gate parking operations if police see uninsured drivers, they will need to take action
  • There is often money available for physical interventions such as road alterations or speed cameras, but very little for behaviour change activities
  • Unable to roll out new resources as far as they’d like because of lack of funds, e.g. 20mph pilot has produced positive interim results but no funding to roll out further 


  • Can cover a wider area and spread the word much further
  • Budgets and resources can be used more effectively
  • Wider objectives allow access to money which might not normally be available e.g. access to Clean Air Fund
  • By working in partnership, different services can ensure they are using the same messages and resources to engage communities
  • A shared sense of responsibility encourages other departments to take part e.g Waste Management offering to put posters on bin lorries

Advice to others

Reflecting on the initiatives Jenny and her team have been involved with in recent years, her advice to other authorities is:

  • Get creative! Make use of all free tools and resources
  • Use social media to spread messages to the public and keep colleagues in other departments informed of your activities
  • Share good practice but also what hasn’t worked so well
  • Get the support of the public - this is vital in encouraging local communities to take responsibility for making changes in their own areas
  • Build relationships with community groups, whose role may be vital if funds are being reduced for direct delivery by your own team
  • Be on the lookout for pots of funding and empower colleagues, communities, schools, voluntary organisations and businesses to apply for these