Threatened to the Limit? the Effects of Traffic Safety Billboards on (risky) Driving Behavior.
1Maastricht University, Department of Work & Social Psychology
Background: Although fear appeals can cause defensive reactions, traffic campaigns frequently use threat with the goal to promote safe driving. This study investigates possible defensive reactions (i.e. more risky driving) of threat information on billboards. Adding coping information with advices for safe driving might reduce defensive reactions and increase safe driving. Methods: 71 Participants completed a 25 km test-drive in a driving simulator showing four billboards (photo and text) related to safe driving. The levels of coping (yes or no) and threat (yes or no) on the billboards were varied as between-subjects factors. Eleven measures of risky driving were used including velocity and speeding. Findings: Univariate analyses showed main effects of threat on velocity (p = .007) and speeding (p = .019). Billboards with threat led to higher velocity and more speeding than billboards without threat. No effects of coping were found. Discussion: While threat information led to more risky driving, combining fear and coping showed no increase in safe driving. Cautiousness is advised when using fear appeals on billboards and more effective methods have to be developed.