Positive outlook educational films on road safety achieve more positive results while the fear factor fails to convince, according to a new Anglo Belgium study.

The research project was undertaken by the University of Antwerp, University of Southampton and the University of Warwick.

146 young drivers undertook two types of tests comparing the difference in their subsequent attitudes to risky driving.

Two Into One

The films focused on driving behaviour. Half of the group viewed a six-minute video aimed at instilling fear through a crash caused by a reckless driver, distracted by his passengers. The other half saw a video showing a positive scene, leading by example, with a careful driver asking the passengers not to distract him.

Both road safety films had been developed specifically for and, used by, fire and rescue services in the UK.

At the same time, the study also looked into whether watching the videos in an immersive setting on a virtual reality (VR) headset had a greater influence on behaviour than watching the videos on a two-dimensional (2D) TV screen.

Negative Balance

Using questionnaires, the instant successes and failures of each version on attitudes were assessed. These results were contrasted with the results of a second test, the Vienna Risk-Taking Test-Traffic. This test required the watching of video clips looking at driving situations that require a driver reaction (for example, considering whether to overtake in icy conditions) and participants were asked to indicate if and, when, they regarded the manoeuvre as too risky.

The findings revealed that positively framed films appear to have a better effect on the attitudes of young people; they reject poor behaviours and show more consideration of safer driving techniques. The results were even more persuasive when using VR rather than traditional 2D screen technology.

In contrast, the fear film shown in VR failed to reduce risky driving behaviours. In fact, they actually increased young drivers’ risk taking.

Hopeful Outlooks

The results seem to go against a traditional view that portraying the horrific results of dangerous driving deter dangerous behaviours. Instead, the study back up more contemporary theories that affirming positive behaviours can lead to young drivers taking fewer risks on the road. 

Dr Yaniv Hanoch, associate professor of risk management at the University of Southampton, said: “Governments around the world have adopted a plethora of interventions aimed at encouraging safer driving, the majority of which use fear-based content, such as graphic depictions of sudden car crashes.

“Finding the best means to tackle this issue is of paramount importance. By studying driver safety interventions currently used by the fire and rescue service across the UK, this research provides the first examination of the effects of both message content and mode of delivery on risky driving behaviour among young drivers.”