Roughly 90% of all vehicle crashes are the direct result of choices, attitudes, and habits of drivers while behind the wheel. They may choose to drive impaired, or they may choose to speed, text while driving or make other fundamentally risky decisions.
Historically, society has tried to adjust for these choices in several ways:
- Improving the design of vehicles to make them better protect occupants in the event of a crash, and to help drivers have more control of the vehicle in various circumstances so that they might avoid some crashes
- Instituting standards for road design and signs to make it less complicated to drive
- Improving post-crash medical response to help people survive crashes
- Providing education to drivers to help them understand the possible consequences of their driving so that they might exercise greater caution in handling their vehicles
This post deals with the evolution of driver safety “training” or education efforts. Early driver education programs included personal communications (word of mouth) between drivers and later became written documents and even short motion pictures. The documents continue to this day as state government driver manuals for both new motorists (driving for first time) or for drivers who are applying to become commercial drivers (i.e. CDL manuals).
Movies, videos, CDs, DVDs, and online presentations represent the conversion of those written documents (content) into a captivating medium that can better illustrate common scenarios encountered on the highway. Sometimes it is much easier to show someone a concept than to try and describe it in words.
Early education efforts focused on two underlying models: Intellectual Awareness (discussing the details of an issue) and soliciting an Emotional Response to trigger a change in habits:
- Intellectual Awareness – an assessment of issue, how it occurs, what contributes to it happening and suggestion of practical responses to either avoid that issue or cope with the consequences of the issue.
- An example is describing how speeding robs a driver of time to react, reduces distance to brake and increases the energy involved in a crash; therefore, slow down to buy time to react, stop and reduce the consequences of the collision that may occur.
- Pros/Cons – this is a great way to help establish a foundation of important knowledge and understanding of the risks of driving, but it depends on holding the attention of the audience and whether they understand all of the details being presented. It can become dull for those people who are not passionate about safety issues – possibly causing them to miss the message.
- Emotional Response – many people, especially over the age of 21, become set in their habits and mindset unless an emotional event triggers self-reflection and ignites a willingness to change in response to a tragic or shocking circumstance.
- An example would be the dramatic reenactment of a crash on screen. This may trigger a strong emotional response from the graphic depiction of the actors being hurt or killed in the scenario. A presentation of a brief learning lesson helps redirect the learner to want to change their habits in response.
- Pros/Cons – not everyone responds the same way to emotional stimuli. Not everyone will identify with the “victims” in the same way. Some may reject the scenario as unlikely to happen to them for some reason. Others may be frightened of the consequences but fail to grasp the message on how to avoid that scenario.
Within the past twenty years, new models have emerged to engage drivers. These models seek to obtain a personal commitment from the audience, or to influence the audience into a new perspective on a common issue especially where there is a general misconception of the immediate threat presented by the target behavior or habit such as texting while driving (Social Norming).
- Personal Commitment Solicitation is an effort to make the audience see “what’s in it for them” or how issue could affect them unless they commit to self-monitor (or adjust) their own behaviors to avoid issue consequences)
- An example would be the presentation of a series of reminders about how crashes happen from attitude, choices and habits with a strong, emotional discussion of the potential consequences and a final, direct appeal to the audience asking that (based on the presentation) make a personal commitment to change habits (typically two or three specific commitments).
- Pros/Cons – this sort of presentation isn’t designed to set a foundation of “how to drive”, but does highlight the consequences of poor choices and asks for a commitment. There’s no way to assure that a commitment will be made, but this goes a step further than merely presenting an educational session and stopping the presentation.
- Social Norming – many people, especially younger people (teens, young adults) hold inflated perceptions of reality (i.e. “crashes happen to other people – not me”, “texting while driving isn’t such a big deal since I do it all the time and have never crashed”, etc.) The approach of social norming is to counter misperceptions and help the audience adjust their perception of the true situation (people die from texting while driving, etc.).
- An example would be to demonstrate how absurd it would be to translate our attitudes while driving into other social situations in order to elicit a response from the audience that their habits must change.
- Pros/Cons – while entertaining, it may not convince some audience members that they ought to change habits.
Raising safety awareness, convincing drivers of the need to “want to” change and reminding them of the risks they take while behind the wheel are good efforts to reduce the risk of crashes. Driver education is only one part of the program, but it can be an effective part when different methods are used for different audiences (young or old, seasoned or novice, etc.)