Understanding the Effectiveness of Public Awareness Educational Campaigns (non-law enforcement) and the Necessary Components Critical for Success
Given more than 90 percent of traffic fatalities involve poor choices by drivers, pedestrians, or both, most states have engaged in some sort of behavioral based program aimed at using education and/or enforcement to change behavior. Well known examples include NHTSA’s Click It or Ticket and Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over campaigns. While these programs use paid media and marketing to raise awareness, they are primarily focused on increasing high visibility enforcement efforts to discourage poor driving behaviors. With law enforcement agencies across the country facing resource challenges, many states are experiencing less participation in these types of campaigns. Furthermore, while enforcement remains a strong deterrent of poor behavior, it impacts only a fraction of the population, therefore limiting the overall number of individuals who can be engaged each year.
As a result, some states have launched new behavioral based campaigns focused more on public awareness, education, and individual responsibility. These campaigns urge drivers and pedestrians to change the culture by committing to better choices apart from any potential punitive interaction with law enforcement. It’s more about their responsibility to create a safe transportation system, and less about getting caught. One example of this is Missouri’s Buckle Up, Phone Down program (www.modot.org/bupd), an initiative that asks individuals and organizations alike to make positive strides in increasing two behaviors: always using a seat belt when riding in a vehicle and always putting down the phone while driving or walking. These positive behaviors may be motivated by a simple individual pledge or by organizational policies that promote and encourage a change in behavior. While these campaigns can present some evidence as to their effectiveness, there is little research regarding just how effective such campaigns are. Are campaigns like Buckle Up, Phone Down making a difference, and if so, to what extent? For example, are more people buckling up than before? Are fewer drivers using their phones while driving?
Beyond the results themselves, what are the key parameters that make such educational campaigns successful? Is it positive peer pressure? A clear call to take a few specific actions? A memorable tag line or brand? Flexible opportunities for the message to spread organically and take on different forms? For localized campaigns that have proven successful, what actions must be taken to help the movement be replicated and spread to other communities/regions? Human behavior has been at the root of fatal traffic crashes since vehicles first hit public roadways. As an industry, we must continue seeking ways to change behavior from the onset, ultimately developing a culture that prioritizes safety amongst all road users. While enforcement and engineering will always have a role, the issue really starts with the choices of individuals and their understanding of their own responsibility. A better understanding of how to effectively engage citizens in this regard would be helpful in creating initiatives that are both successful and sustainable.
IV. RESEARCH OBJECTIVE
The objective of this research is to provide SHSOs more evidence as to how effective educational, public awareness campaigns are and to identify the essential components of a campaign in order to increase the effectiveness. Deliverables will include a guidebook outlining the critical components and steps for conducting an effective public awareness campaign. In addition, the guidebook should include examples of successful campaigns and the corresponding contact information.
V. URGENCY AND POTENTIAL BENEFITS
Over 90 percent of fatal traffic crashes are the result of poor human choices. While we wait on technology to make further strides in limiting driver error, we must continue to find ways to engage users now to change both individual behaviors and the culture of accepted practices.