“Drinking and Driving CounterAttack”: does science support tougher laws?

Drinking and driving CounterAttack is the current road safety campaign by the Province of British Columbia, ICBC and police departments around the region. While some people disagree with its core policy (harsher penalties start at alcohol levels of .05), I contend that science supports it.


Drinking and driving CounterAttack is the current road safety campaign by the Province of British Columbia, ICBC and police departments around the region. While some people disagree with its core policy (harsher penalties start at alcohol levels of .05), I contend that science supports it.

First, the campaign doesn’t use threats of physical harm to persuade the audience, which researchers have found to be potentially ineffective, especially among young male drivers1, 2. This is very important, because this particular group reported the “highest number of drinking drivers [involved] in collisions”, accoding to the latest Traffic Collision Statistics report (page 58)3.

Second, while abandoning the “physical threat” approach, the campaign resorts to a type of hazard that can be more effective on young male drivers: social risks (such as losing the licence). In fact, a growing number of studies indicate that this kind of threat can be more effective than physical harm1.

Finally, threats of harsher penalties are usually criticised as being ineffective, if people believe they are not susceptible to them1. However, the campaign has already dealt with this potential drawback by increasing enforcement, which is very effective to reduce road fatalities4, 5.

The lead ad of this campaign (see video above) probably rolls out these three points into one message: “you are more likely to be caught and penalties will be harsher”.

References

  1. Lewis, I., Watson, B., Tay, R. & White, K. M. (2007). The role of fear appeals in improving driver safety: a review of the effectiveness of fear-arousing (threat) appeals in road safety advertising. International Journal of Behavioral Consultation and Therapy, 3, 2, 203-222.
  2. Tay, R., Watson B., Radbourne O. & De Young B. (2001). The influence of fear arousal and perceived efficacy on the acceptance and rejection of road safety advertising messages. Road Safety Research. In Policing and Education Conference (Regain the Momentum), Melbourne, Australia.
  3. ICBC (2007). Traffic Collision Statistics. British Columbia: ICBC.
  4. Constant, A., Salmi, L.R. , Lafont, S., Chiron, M. & Lagarde, E. (2008). The recent dramatic decline in road mortality in France: how drivers’ attitudes towards road traffic safety changed between 2001 and 2004 in the GAZEL cohort. Health Education Research, 23, 5, 848–858.
  5. Redelmeier, D.A., Tibshirani, R.J. & Evans, L. (2003). Traffic-law enforcement and risk of death from motor-vehicle crashes: case-crossover study. The Lancet, 361,  2177-2182.

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