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Educating the Public About Distracted Driving: Dos and Don’ts


January 23, 2018   by David Gambrill


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Public education strategies must supplement tougher laws if insurers wish to curb the number of claims arising from distracted driving, says the Traffic Injury Research Foundation (TIRF).

Despite increasing fines and penalties for distracted driving, nearly one in four fatal crashes in 2013 involved distraction, TIRF statistics show. And several jurisdictions across the country are reporting that distraction is a leading factor in road fatalities.

“Laws and penalties are an essential element to supplement public education efforts, and research shows that enforcement combined with education can increase deterrent effects,” Robyn Robertson, TIRF’s president and CEO, told Canadian Underwriter Tuesday. “However, this approach [of laws and penalties] alone only takes us so far.

“Social norming strategies, which are based on the fact that our behaviour is shaped by the beliefs and actions of people in our own peer group, are equally important. And much work is needed to change social norms around distractions and driving.”

There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to education about distracted driving, Robertson said, when asked which public education strategies are most effective. The message and style should conform to the characteristics of the intended audience. Getting out the prevention message to drivers when they are engaged in distracted driving is important, Robertson said, although this has been difficult to achieve.

More effective strategies tend to use humour, positive messaging, and are personally relevant, meaning that they allow drivers to “see themselves in the situation,” Robertson said.

Conversely, campaigns that tend to receive more visibility convey fear-based appeals. These strategies aim to deter risky behaviours by illustrating the graphic consequences of harm or injury that can result from these behaviours.

“While fear-based approaches are often effective at getting our attention, their effectiveness in changing behaviour is better suited to older, experienced drivers as opposed to young, male drivers who often have a higher crash risk,” Robertson said.

Criminal justice research shows it’s just as important to catch people doing things right, as it is to catch them doing things wrong, Robertson said.

“People are more likely to repeat behaviour that is positively reinforced. Consideration of efforts to incentivize and encourage good behaviour, as well as recognize it when it happens, could help us to change behaviour.”

Robertson talked to Canadian Underwriter shortly after the Canadian Coalition on Distracted Driving (CCDD) launched a new web-based information hub. The online resource includes the latest research, stats and data on distracted driving, laws and penalties in Canada, and a variety of educational tools and resources for helping prevent distracted driving.

The CCDD is a coalition of concerned organizations spanning several sectors, including the education, enforcement, academia, government, health, insurance, automotive and trucking industries, as well as the not-for-profit sector.

“While still in the early stages, the group’s mandate is to find ways to share data across the industry to help identify trends and work collaboratively to tackle the issue of distracted driving,” says Jayne Russell, manager of public relations at the Co-operators, which sits on the CCDD working group.

“Being a part of the CCDD has also given us the opportunity to work across industries – including healthcare, law enforcement, and justice –  to share information so that we have a more holistic view of what can be done to reduce the risks.”