Teenagers ‘can’t be shocked’ into becoming safer drivers

09.14 | 23 November 2023 |

Using ‘shock and tell’ tactics to teach teenagers about the risks associated with driving does little to improve safety and may actually make things worse, a report has found.

The study, carried out by Dr Elizabeth Box, research director at the RAC Foundation, found such approaches can prompt defensive or even hostile reactions, particularly among young men. 

Members of a young audience are also more likely to experience optimism bias about their own capabilities and the scale of their risk exposure.

Rather than talk at pre-drivers about the risks they face, the study found a more interactive approach could be better, one where the facts about road safety are shared and young participants are encouraged to come to their own conclusions about what good driving behaviour looks like.

Steve Gooding, Director of the RAC Foundation, said: “In a world where young drivers are bombarded with numerous influences, we must harness the power of evidence-based interventions, behavioural theories, and psychological insights to create programmes that resonate with their needs and the realities they face.

“This report underscores the importance of moving beyond traditional approaches, such as ‘shock and tell’ testimonial events, which may yield strong reactions but often fail to leave a lasting impact.”

In the report, titled Empowering Young Drivers with Road Safety Education, Dr Box argues that road safety interventions should be based on research evidence and behavioural theory rather than intuition and personal knowledge.

Having reviewed the literature on the subject and compared the traditional theatre (lecture) type approach with the ‘DriveFit’ film and workshop, Dr Box concludes that road safety education involving school-age teenagers needs to be more subtle and sympathetic to the physiological changes young brains are going through and young people’s attitudes to risk.

 The DriveFit intervention consisted of a 40-minute film delivered in the classroom, followed by a 45-minute online facilitated workshop undertaken within two weeks of the film showing. 

The film uses a talk-show-style interview format, where expert guests provided information, demonstrations and tips about how pre-, learner and newly qualified drivers can best manage the learning-to-drive process as well as curtail the risky driving behaviours associated with speeding, tiredness, mobile phone use and intoxicated driving. 

The online workshop following the film encouraged participants to remember the film and extract relevant learning for their own personal situations.

Steve Gooding added: “The findings presented echo a growing consensus that our approach to road safety education must evolve. It is not enough to impart information about risks; we must also empower young and pre-drivers with cognitive skills, hazard perception abilities, and the capacity to make safe choices in the face of distractions, peer influence, and fatigue. 

“The DriveFit intervention case study included in the report, which recently received a Prince Michael International Road Safety Award, demonstrates that thoughtful design and assessment can yield positive results. 

“While the improvements may be modest, they represent the important incremental steps that lead us towards safer outcomes for this at-risk group.”



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