Evaluating road safety campaigns: success comes with failure

Many campaign evaluations focus only on one side of the issue: message acceptance. That is, they only measure how the message positively changed self-reported attitudes, intentions or behaviour. However, most evaluations pay little attention to message rejection―the extent to which the message fails.

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Initiatives to educate drivers and promote road safety are not scarce in British Columbia. Right now, there are at least seven communication campaigns that focus on different issues: drinking and driving, intersections, speeding, high school speakers, cell phone use, child seats, and young drivers1, 2. Considering the effort and money spent in these programs, it is important to measure how effective they are.

In this respect, it seems fair to say that many campaign evaluations focus only on one side of the issue: message acceptance3. That is, they only measure how the message positively changed self-reported attitudes, intentions or behaviour4. However, most evaluations pay little attention to message rejection―the extent to which the message fails.

This is a problem because many campaigns use fear to persuade the audience, and fear is positively associated with both message acceptance and rejection4. Researchers have proposed a range of sophisticated explanations for this intriguing finding; however, there is no definite account as to how fear arousal affects the effectiveness of our campaigns4.

Consequently, I invite road safety practitioners to include rejection assessments in their programs, so we better understand what works, what doesn’t and how we can become more effective. By understanding our failures, we will get closer to success.

References and links

  1. Insurance Corporations of British Columbia (ICBC).
  2. The Traffic Safety Foundation of the British Columbia Automobile Association (BCAA).
  3. Hargrave, M. (2010). ICBC Speakers’ stories hit home with youth. In ICBC May 2010 news releases, May 4.
  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.

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