Audience analytics for road safety: personality traits

In order to be effective at educating the public, road safety campaigns must answer basic questions about drivers: who are they? Are there any identifiable groups? What gets their attention? How to communicate effectively with each of them? In this post, I will these questions in terms of personality traits. As I will describe, psychological research on this area has proven to be very useful for road safety and injury prevention in general.


In order to be effective at educating the public, road safety campaigns must answer basic questions about drivers: who are they? Are there any identifiable groups? What gets their attention? How to communicate effectively with them? In this post, I will answer these questions in terms of personality traits, because psychological research on this area has proven to be very useful for road safety and injury prevention in general.

Sensation Seeking

Sensation seeking is a personality trait that has captured the attention of road safety researchers and practitioners, because of its connection with risk-taking behaviour, impaired driving, aggression, and attention deficit disorders1,2,3,4,5. More importantly, sensation seeking has proven to be the best predictor of crash risk5.

In addition, sensation seeking has also been useful to create communication strategies. For instance, researchers have found that threats of physical harm have little effect on sensation seekers6. Given that this group is more likely to engage in dangerous and illegal driving, this finding has inspired recent road safety campaigns. If you have paid attention to the publicity, you probably have noticed that it uses less physical threat content; that is, less images of crashes and less warnings about death or potential injuries.

Time perspective
In recent years, psychologists have discovered a new personality trait that promises to expand our knowledge of unsafe and illegal driving: Time Perspective7. In a nutshell, time perspective refers to people’s preferences regarding the past, the present or the future. In this context, people can be future-oriented, present-hedonistic, or present-fatalist8. Here is a brief description of these personality types, along with their relevance to road safety:

  • Future-oriented people are less likely to commit driving offences, because they have high impulse control and low sensation seeking.
  • Present-hedonistic individuals are more likely to engage in dangerous and illegal driving, because they have high sensation seeking, low impulse control and high levels of aggression.
  • Present-fatalistic folks, like the previous group, are also prone to unsafe driving, but for slightly different reasons: low self-esteem and low concern for the future, as well as high aggression and depression.
Unsafe driving
©iStockphoto.com/Thomas Pullicino

This psychological concept is relevant for road safety, because it tells us how to communicate with high-risk groups and what elements we should include in our programs. For instance: since present-hedonistic people are more likely drink and drive3, 4, 7, campaigns against impaired driving should not focus on the future consequences. Instead, time perspective literature7 suggests a community approach because these individuals seem to care more about affiliations than about consequences.

Undoubtedly, more research needs to be done in this area, but definitely, we are on a promising path.

References and notes

  1. Dalziel, J.R. & Job, R.F.S. (No date). Taxi drivers and road safety (manuscript).
  2. 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
  3. Kelly, E., Darke, S. & Ross, J. (2004). A review of drug use and driving: epidemiology, impairment, risk factors and risk perceptions. Drug and Alcohol Review, 23, 319 -344.
  4. 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.
  5. Vavrik, J. (2007). ICBC studies risky behaviours. British Columbia Medical Journal, 49, 9, 480-481.
  6. 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.
  7. Zimbardo, P. & Boyd, J. (2008). The time paradox. In Google Talks.
  8. There are other categories, but they are relevant for road safety; at least, not yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s