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Inaugural lecture Marjan Hagenzieker: greater role behavioural studies can improve road safety

There is still much to improve in road safety in the Netherlands. The number of serious traffic injuries is increasing and the cities in particular threatens to get congested. The self-driving car could also cause new safety problems. Marjan Hagenzieker wants to address these issues by paying attention to, above all, the human behaviour in road safety. Hagenzieker, herself a behavioural scientist, delivered her inaugural lecture as Professor of Road Safety at Delft University of Technology on Wednesday 21 October.

The human component

"You need all kinds of knowledge to understand and improve road safety. Knowledge about vehicles, roads, the infrastructure but also about people as users. That's my expertise, because I am originally a behavioural scientist," says Professor Marjan Hagenzieker, who, on Wednesday 21 October, delivered her inaugural lecture entitled  'That bollard could also have been a child. ' at Delft University of Technology

"You can design all kinds of measures or systems like a new type of roundabout, new types of asphalt, modern bike path lighting, a new warning system, or extra wide or extra narrow lanes, but people are adaptive creatures that adapt rapidly and well to new circumstances." This human component is being more and more seriously included in road safety research, which originally was mainly technical in nature. Hagenzieker intends to give human behaviour a full-fledged place in the traffic safety models.

The Netherlands (still) at the top

These (better) models should help in the assessment of which measures can increase road safety. “Because there is still a lot to improve,” according to Hagenzieker, “despite the fact that worldwide the Netherlands is in the top of the safest countries and the number of deaths still declines annually.” This could lead you to the conclusion that all is well. The number of serious road injuries, however, has been increasing in recent years. Since about 2007-2008 we see a disturbing rise.”

“The number of injuries among cyclists, for instance, increases. We are investigating that. There are of course many more cyclists and that is healthy, and also useful in the cities. But more cyclists also leads to more accidents. Add to this the fact that the elderly cycle more frequently, partly due to the rise of the electric bike.”

Self-driving cars

Hagenzieker believes that you can only improve road saefty if you tackle the roads, the road users, the vehicles ánd policy. This means that the entire traffic system and all its underlying aspects must be considered together. “The implementation of ready-to-use technologies as a solution is tempting but that turns out not to work. For example, you can install all kinds of systems with cameras and number plate recognition, but that only works if the fines are also sent and delivered and paid. In the Netherlands we attach more importance to which problem needs to be solved by which technique and how people will interact with this technique. “

Hagenzieker is caurious with regard to the rising technology of self-driving cars. "It is fashionable,  but you first want to test in a controlled environment how drivers deal with it and how safe that is." Especially during the transitional period she foresees safety problems. "There will be a mix of traditional cars and cars that partly or completely automated. That makes it very difficult for road users to know what they are dealing with."

Delft University of Technology and SWOV are fully involved in trials that are currently being done with different forms of automated driving. In addition to her professorship at the Faculty of Civil Engineering and Geosciences, Hagenzieker works at SWOV as a scientific advisor .

Cities congested

Hagenzieker considers the subject road safety in cities to be at least as important as the self-driving car. ' Not do cities get congested by traffic jams and parking problems, more and more new vehicle types appear i in the streets. Cyclists, fast e-bikes, skateboards, Segways, delivery vehicles that load and unload, cargo bikes, trams, tuktuks and mobility scooters: they all ask for space. The urban road infrastructure lags behind this development. The old infrastructure should really adapted the coming years; not only to self-driving cars but to the whole traffic mix. I would like do research into this.”

More information

For more information about the research you can contact Marjan Hagenzieker via  or Nathalie Eimers, persvoorlichter TU Delft via tel. 06-24953717 en