Engineering safe behaviour to save lives

6 October 2021


“If I die tomorrow, I want to know that my research has made a difference.”

So said School of Civil Engineering PhD candidate Stephanie Ballon-Romero, when asked why she chose to study transport engineering.

Because thoughts of death were never too far away when she was growing up in Peru – with inadequate and developing road infrastructure, many fatal accidents happened.

“I felt that this was something I could improve, and so I decided to study civil engineering at the Universidad Católica Santa Maria,” she said.

“Most people think of civil engineering as just designing structures such as bridges, but it can also include analysing transport systems and how people travel between places – whether by foot, bike or vehicle.

“I enrolled in every transport course I could in my undergraduate degree and enjoyed it. In fact, my honours thesis was The study, simulation and optimisation of traffic flow along Jorge Chavez Avenue in Arequipa."

With such a passion for her subject, it was only natural that Ballon-Romero would pursue further studies. Having learnt Chinese as part of her program – second languages are highly regarded in South America – she successfully applied for a government scholarship to complete a Master of Engineering in China. Under the supervision of noted traffic analyst Professor Hongmei Zhou at the Dalian University of Technology, she then completed the paper, An extension of the theory of planned behaviour to predict pedestrians’ violating crossing behaviour using structural equation modelling.

“The ‘theory of planned behaviour’ tries to understand why people do certain things, especially reckless behaviour like smoking or crossing a road when the light is red,” Ballon-Romero said.

“It’s a psychological approach widely used in the development of behavioural campaigns to reduce fatalities and improve safety. I applied this theory to understand why pedestrians behave recklessly and which factors influence their behaviour, such as how other people behave, how people think others should behave, how easy or difficult is, and cultural ‘norms’."

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Stephanie Ballon-Romero is currently in the fourth year of her PhD in UQ’s School of Civil Engineering, under the supervision of transport engineering specialist Professor Mark Hickman. She has enjoyed the learning approach at UQ, which encourages students to speak openly and freely. She believes this has developed her critical thinking skills and boosted her confidence when discussing her ideas. Stephanie can be contacted at