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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 16-Apr-10


Friday 16-April-10

A persuasive reason for speed limits

Do you break the law? Of course you do -- there are so many laws it is probably difficult not to. What about the times you knowingly flout laws? When asked, many people will cite breaking the speed limit whilst driving. Yet they also know that speeding costs lives -- so why do they do it? One reason is that it is so common, we assume it is acceptable, and even expected. When everyone else is speeding we don't want to hold up the flow.

So think about the poor people who are charged with slowing down the traffic around our towns and cities. Physical 'coercion' works best with bumps, chicanes, slaloms and other obstacles, but how can you used more persuasive signs?

Various methods in speed-reducing signs have included making them bigger, showing pictures of children (as near schools) and adding flashing lights. Words are sometimes added, such as 'mandatory speed limit'. So I was curious when I saw the following on an urban 30 mph speed limit sign recently:

 There is a reason

'There is a reason.' Now what is that all about? In fact what they are doing here is using the Elaboration Likelihood Model, which says we process information through a central, thoughtful route or a peripheral, largely subconscious route. To change minds properly, you need to get people to. Use the central route, thinking carefully and rationally, which is where this road sign is targeted. It also leverages the need to explain, so when we see 'there is a reason' we have to consciously think about the reason. And having thought about it and knowing it is reasonable, as reasonable people we are impelled by the consistency principle to comply.

Neat, huh?

Your comments

Interesting as usual.

The simplest way to lower speed limits is to have shorter sign posts. However slowing drivers may require a comparison with more fundamental psychological mechanisms.

Driving depends largely on reflex thus the concept of positive and negative reinforcement enters the picture.

For example the issuing of a fine is a form of "positive" reinforcement - the application of a stimulus after a (speeding) response. But what about the driver who obeys the speed limit but is involved in a collision with a speeder? The innocent is punished(?) and perhaps traumatized even though they did nothing to elicit the stimulus. "...once burned, twice shy...." as they say?

The concept of defensive driving encourages the driver to think not only of their own activity but all other hazards on the road or in the extreme []??.

Perhaps the sign should have a paraphrase of the subtitle from the 1977 movie "Close Encounters":

30 You Are Not Alone

-- Peter


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