7 tips for effective road safety campaigns

October 1, 2015 | 0 Comments
traffic safety campaigns

A study on road safety campaigns has found, among other things, that negativity and frightening imagery may do more harm than good. Image from the NYC Department of Transportation.

Is there a science behind an effective traffic safety campaign? Not necessarily, but science does have something to say about why campaigns succeed or fail. A new study, “Persuasive appeals in road safety communication campaigns: Theoretical frameworks and practical implications from the analysis of a decade of road safety campaign materials,” offers significant guidance for how to plan an effective campaign, and an understanding of what works, and what doesn’t.

Some of the study’s findings:

  1. Appeals to logic don’t necessarily work.

As the study points out, seemingly logical campaigns may cause unintended consequences. “For example… images of death as a means to increase particular audience members’ motivation to avoid a traffic risk could actually do the opposite,” write the authors.

  1. Social norms impact people’s behavior on the road.

Drivers observe the behavior, attitudes and emotional reactions of other drivers, who in turn act as “models,” whether positive or negative, of appropriate behavior. Young drivers, for example, were found to be more likely to use their phone while behind the wheel if they believed their peers approved them doing so. And what driver hasn’t driven over the speed limit in response to the speed of the other speeding cars on the highway?

  1. Scaring people is not necessarily effective.

“People tend to hold an ‘optimistic bias’; assessing they are less at risk than others or that they have the ability to control it,” report the study’s authors. In other words, people’s risk tolerance is related to social and psychological factors, not “logical” ones.

  1. Effective safety campaigns are multi-pronged.

In 2004 the World Health Organization found that road safety campaigns were able to influence behavior in tandem with legislation and law enforcement; still, the WHO also said that “when used in isolation, education, information and publicity generally do not deliver tangible and sustained reductions in deaths and serious injuries.”

  1. Positive, humorous appeals can work… but proceed with caution.

“Positive appeals can elicit identification and found to favorably affect intended populations in health and other contexts,” write the first study’s authors. Humor is a good tactic for getting people interested in something they would otherwise not be. The one danger is that humor may detract from the message itself.

  1. Fear can have a reverse impact.

Fear-based campaigns, such as using graphic images or referencing death in other ways as a threat, for example, could actually increase people’s tendency to behave riskily on the road, by “eliciting thoughts to reassure one’s self esteem and mastery.”

  1. Understand the impact between parents’ and children’s interaction.

Another study found that parents and children can positively influence each other’s safety habits. The researchers explain “[I]n a campaign aimed at encouraging seat belt use among kids, using toys that can be attached to the seat belt… not only did seat belt use among children increase as a result of the campaign, but the children also encouraged their parents to wear their seat belt.”

Want to learn more? Check out the full “Persuasive appeals” study online here to read about the breakdown behind each safety campaign approach, and learn more about campaigns’ impact in another study, “Meta-analysis of the effect of road safety campaigns on accidents,” available here.

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Category: Miscellaneous, Transportation

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