Beyond Scaring Them Straight: Assessing Alternative Measures of Persuasion in Road Safety Campaigns
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Worldwide, young drivers are involved in more road traffic collisions than any other age group. Comprehensive driver training and various forms of pre- and- post-test road safety interventions (RSIs) are in place, but young drivers continue to be involved in more at-fault, fatal collisions than older, qualified drivers. The evidence base to date is mixed regarding why young drivers are at a heightened risk of collision and so this thesis aims to provide further understanding about the factors underpinning young drivers’ engagement in risky driving. An evaluation of a young driver RSI, found that young males were less likely than young females to report safer attitudes and intentions after attending the RSI. We considered that this may be due to personality characteristics, such as willingness to take risks and optimism bias, that motivate young males’ to ignore long-term negative consequences, which forms the basis of traditional RSIs. The subsequent study was conducted to acquire further knowledge on young male risk-takers’ opinion of fear appeal RSIs as well as to ascertain whether optimism bias underpins greater risky driving behaviours. We found that optimism bias and willingness to take risks were more prominent in young males aged 18-25 compared to older males, and that optimism bias and willingness to take risks diminish after 25 years old. We also found that young males did not change their attitudes towards risky driving, suggesting that RSIs may not be effective because young people tend to rate themselves as more skilled and less-accident prone than their peers, and are more inclined to believe that the risks associated with dangerous driving do not apply to them. The findings from the third study provided insight into how two brief interventions, one based on an unambiguous definition of “good” driving and the other on a hazard perception test, might reduce young drivers’ optimism bias, as well as furthering our knowledge on how individual factors such as sensation seeking and risky driving may impact on the effectiveness of interventions aimed at improving optimism bias. In particular, we found that both brief interventions reduced optimism bias levels, but hazard perception had the strongest effect. The effectiveness of the two interventions also differed across individuals depending on their sensation-seeking and past risky driving tendencies. Hence, the results provide evidence for the effectiveness of brief interventions to reduce optimism bias. Finally, the last study investigated the impact of fear vs positively-framed road safety films and traditional technologies (2D) vs emerging technologies (VR) on young drivers’ self-reported risky driving behaviours and message acceptance. The findings indicate that the positively-framed films significantly decreased self-reported risky driving behaviours in both modalities, but especially when viewed in VR format. In contrast, the fear appeal film, when shown in VR, failed to reduce risky driving behaviours, and in fact, increased young drivers’ self-reported risky driving behaviours. The thesis offers a significant contribution to the literature by establishing empirically the effect of behavioural change manipulations to decrease young drivers’ engagement in risky driving and suggesting multiple ways to better improve young drivers’ safety in the future.