Communicating Highway Safety: What Works

Project Details









Iowa Safety Management System

Principal Investigator
Lulu Rodriguez

About the research

Few topics in transportation are of greater significance, now and in the future, than making today?s roads safe for those who use them. This study aims to assist the formulation of policy by examining the empirical evidence currently available on the ability of several forms of communication efforts and activities to increase knowledge about and affect attitudes and behavior toward highway safety practices. The objective of this effort is to provide a comparative synthesis of what works and what does not in highway safety campaigns across a large number of topical areas that have a mass media component.

This was accomplished by conducting an extensive literature review to determine the current state of knowledge concerning what works and what has significant potential for wide use in future highway safety campaigns. An analytic framework for investigating highway safety campaigns was created. The framework includes (1) the types of media components, (2) the types of collaborations, (3) the context in which the campaign is intended to have impact, (4) the structure or procedural steps into which campaigns are organized, (5) the principles for what works in a campaign, and (6) the desired impact of a campaign on its target audience.

The report reveals 25 characteristics of successful communication campaigns, strategies that stand a chance of achieving changes in knowledge, attitude, and behavior. The actual impact of mass communication remains unproven because of a perceived lag in the development of adequate evaluation techniques. Education by itself has not generally resulted in significant changes in the behaviors targeted, but education of the public and advocacy groups has often helped enact necessary legislation, transmit knowledge about the provisions and penalties of laws in ways that increase their deterrent effect, and generate public support for law enforcement programs. Even in such cases, however, when enforcement is inconsistent, public compliance frequently decreases with time. Approaches to traffic safety that emphasize the need for long-term individual- and community-based measures are found to be especially crucial for addressing complex problems like drinking and driving that are determined by a myriad of lifestyle and psychosocial factors.