Abstract This paper validates traffic safety climate attitudes based on a representative sample of road users of all travel modes. We use the German version of the Traffic Climate Scale (TCS) which was applied in a large-scale road safety survey in 2010. A total of 1680 people were surveyed. The sample is representative for socio-demographic characteristics and travel mode choice in Germany. Factor analysis reveals a three-factor structure of traffic safety climate with the factor ‘External affective demands’ describing emotional engagement in traffic, the factor ‘Internal requirements’ representing individual skills and abilities to successfully participate in traffic, and the factor ‘Functionality’ describing requirements for a functional traffic system. The less emotionally demanding and the more functional traffic is perceived to be, the safer people feel in traffic. External affective demands are consistently related to the perception of others’ driving/riding style but not to one’s own, whereas internal requirements are consistently related to one’s own driving/riding style but not to the perception of others. There is no relation between traffic safety climate and accidents or near accidents. Contrary to our expectations, a positive traffic safety climate is associated with more secondary tasks while driving and traffic violations. Behavioural control beliefs may mediate the traffic climate–traffic behaviour relationship. The results are discussed with reference to attitude research and the theory of planned behaviour in particular.