Change has to take root in people’s minds

The main headline in today’s Daily Mail reads:

£90 fine if you’re texting at the wheel: Minister warns of safety crackdown

US experience suggests that the crackdown is unlikely to achieve its desired effect. There the success of attempts to deal with the texting-while-driving problem by means of legislation has been the subject of a number of natural experiments. In the US such laws are a matter of state jurisdiction and some states have passed laws while others have not. This has permitted before-law and after-law  comparisons of states that passed laws with adjacent states that did not.

The results were interesting. A study by the Highway Loss Data Institute in 2009 found that banning texting while driving had a perverse effect – crashes increased. The HLDI explanation for the this result was that after the ban texters texted with their phones in their laps – where they were less visible to the police –  rather than on the steering wheel as before, with the result that they were even more distracted from the driving task. Here is the result for California.

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California – Collision claims per 100 insured vehicle years, by month before and after law for all drivers, compared with Arizona, Nevada, and Oregon.

As philosopher Michael Sandel has observed, “Change has to take root in people’s minds before it can be legislated.” Nowhere is this more obvious than on the road. Countries in the early stages of motorisation have death rates per vehicle many times higher than those of highly motorised countries. And yet most of them have on their statute books the full panoply of imported road safety legislation – from seat belt laws and speed limits to bans on drinking and driving. These laws are simply not enforced, not obeyed, or both.

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  1. Colin says:

    Perhaps legislation is an effective way to kickstart the process of getting change to “take root in people’s minds”.

  2. Art Peel says:

    @Colin, Governments have been trying to put that cart before the horse since forever. The result is laws which are poorly thought out, inefficient to enforce and ignored and/or detested by the governed. And politicians wonder why their approval ratings are often lower than for used car salesmen. They are selling us a trumped up bill of goods and the population responds accordingly.

    Knee-jerk traffic safety laws to date have fallen well short of expectations because they ignore the fact humans can and should be required to think for themselves. Every time a law is passed or sign is erected which encourages drivers not to think about what they and other road users are doing “here and now”, a form of risk compensation kicks in. The thought process becomes “I MUST be driving safely because I’m not breaking any law”, rather than “I’m driving safely because I’m aware of my surroundings and others sharing the same space”.

    Past laws have not increased drivers’ situational awareness or promoted self-generated life-long driving skill improvement.

    This one won’t (hasn’t) either.

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