Setting One’s Sights: Exploring the Dynamics of Goal Selection in Road Safety Policy

Anthony Perl, Christopher Berry


Travel by automobile is manifestly the most dangerous activity that most citizens of developed economies routinely engage in, highlighting the value of trying to explain why some governments address this risk quite differently than do others. This article compares the ways in which Canada sets objectives for managing risk on its roads with alternative European and American targets. The manuscript tests the hypothesis that countries selecting concrete policy goals, which identify specific targets in terms of specific numbers of road deaths and injuries, will pursue more ambitious outcomes than countries that adopt goals stated in relation to another reference point, such as the number of vehicle-kilometres traveled, or the incidence of particular behaviour such as impaired driving or seat belt use. Relative policy goals are shown to translate into less ambitious anticipated results, thus reducing public officials’ exposure to future criticism for having fallen short of their commitments. Public officials who set concrete policy goals may be motivated by a combination of greater perceived political legitimacy and administrative capacity compared to counterparts who embrace relative policy goals, raising implications that are worthy of further exploration.


road; safety; policy

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