This is a blog response to the post “Can YOU stop impaired driving?” in which Sergeant Tim Burrows calls for ideas on how to tackle this problem. Here, I present my two cents:
First, don’t use threats of physical harm or death in your communications, because this kind of message is not effective with the target groups for which it is intended: male drivers and sensation seekers (this term refers to a personality trait that is associated with risk-taking and impaired driving)1, 2. Moreover, some studies suggest that these messages can be counterproductive, because they induce denial (“this won’t happen to me”) and self-enhancement attitudes (“I am a better driver than the people in the ad”).
Second, instead of physical threats, use social threats in your advertisement. Research suggests that young male drivers (who are often the target of these campaigns)2 and sensation seekers3 are more receptive to embarrassment, social stigma and opprobrium.
Third, implement tougher laws, but complement them with increased enforcement4 and strong campaigns to gain public support. Successful experiences in France and Bogotá, show that attitudes towards the law are important for compliance4, and instrumental in changing driver’s behaviours 5, 6, 7.
Fourth, increase vulnerability to police controls; that is, make drivers feel that they WILL get caught if they drink and drive. For instance, research suggests that the “benefits of [a sobriety check] campaign may not depend on drivers’ being personally exposed to a checkpoint, but rather on their knowing that others have.”8 Thus, local media can aid sobriety check campaigns, by announcing how many have been checked and how many didn’t pass. Media coverage, in turn, will increase the perceived risks of being caught by the police9.
Finally, use indirect approaches. For instance, deploy campaigns that also target passengers of impaired drivers (friends, spouses and girlfriends, etc). Peer pressure and social sanction are excellent means to change behaviour6, 8.
There are many other things that we can do, but that requires deeper research into the statistics: are impaired driving offenses rising evenly across provinces and territories? Or are they concentrated in just a few of them? Which gender or age group accounts for most of the accretion? Which income groups? In my experience, the key to create effective solutions is strong analytics supported by extensive literature review on social psychology and injury prevention.
- 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.
- 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.
- Zimbardo, P. & Boyd, J. (2008). The time paradox. In Google Talks.
- 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.
- Caballero, M.C. (2004). Academic turns city into a social experiment: Mayor Mockus of Bogotá and his spectacularly applied theory. Harvard Gazette (no pages).
- Singhal, A. & Greiner, K. (2008). Performance activism and civic engagement through symbolic and playful actions. Journal of Development Communication, 19, 43-53.
- Rojas, C. (2002). Forging civic culture in Bogotá city. Workshop on citizen participation and fiscal decentralization, Tokyo and Kobe, September 2-6.
- Beck, K.H. & Moser, M.L (2006). Does the type of exposure to a roadside sobriety checkpoint influence driver perceptions regarding drunk driving? Amercian Journal of Health Behavior, 30, 3, 268-277.
- Slovic, P. Fischhoff, B, Lichestein, S. (1992). Informing the public about the risks from ionizing radiation. In Arkhes, H.R. & Hammond, K.R., Judgment and decision making. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, MA.