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Tweed Coast Treadly
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Bike to work to live to bike
It's never too late to get back on the bike

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I'm not drunk enough for this
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BikeHacks
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Mozam's cycling adventures
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Monday, March 26, 2007

Why "education" just doesn't work

Recently on the bikejournal forum there has been a discussion about hit and run assaults. This has, of course, been followed by the usual calls for "driver education" in an attempt to do something about it. If I could just take a moment, I'd remind the chaps in that post that similar schemes have been tried in the past. There is a reason the national road toll keeps rising despite all the money being spent on supposedly "educating" people (and that's without considering all the money spent on "road improvements" every year for the same reason).

The problem with education is that without some serious law enforcement to back it up, it just doesn't work. I've seen it tried in this part of the world for years, without having any effect at all. There are two problems. Firstly, selecting a medium that might actually be effective, and secondly, most people will just think it's the message is aimed at "everyone else".

Here in Queensland they tried running "share the road" advertisements on television some years ago -- a response to a relatively large number of hit and run assaults on the Gold Coast for a city of only 500,000. Television seems to be considered the only "acceptable" way to educate people these days. The problem, of course, is that the cost of it meant that we ended up with a 30-second slot that only aired sporadically. I'm fairly certain that most people just blocked it out along with all the other advertising that we're bombarded with day after day. In fact, I'd suggest that if you asked anyone (apart from a few cyclists) to remember the content of the advertisements (or even that they aired at all) six weeks later, I'd say most people couldn't.

Secondly, 90% of drivers seem to have this idea that they are somehow "above average" while everyone else on the road is a menace. Consequently, if someone does see an ad on the television, or a slogan on the invoice telling them that their rego fees are due, they'll probably just assume that it's aimed at "all those other hopeless drivers", and that they themselves can just ignore it. This seems to explain why "education" seems to be such a popular "solution" in political circles -- they can be seen to be "dealing with the problem" without actually upsetting anybody.

If anyone is serious about solving the problem, pass a law that makes any hit and run offence an automatic 30 year prison sentence -- with the only involvement from a judge or jury in each case being to ensure that the suspect is actually guilty. ENSURE THAT THERE IS NO POSSIBILITY OF A REDUCED SENTENCE FOR A HIT AND RUN DRIVER UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES. The shock jocks in the media will likely create a heap of hysteria in response, which will be a far more effective (and much cheaper) educational tool than any diplomatically worded advertisement, and I guarantee that after two sentences have been handed out, the number of hit and runs will decrease dramatically.

Education doesn't work. It just gives people the option of blaming someone else, and the government a way to be seen to be attacking a problem without actually doing anything about it (or losing any votes a long the way). The only way to reduce the road toll is to start holding people accountable for their actions, and that requires law enforcement. Unfortunately, the prospect of this ever happening is somewhat remote as there don't seem to be any votes in road safety these days, but I suppose that's just "democracy" in action.

4 Comments:

Blogger Treadly&Me said...

What you're talking about there is the self-serving bias. And yes, there have been studies done which show that it's mathematically impossible for everyone who thinks they're an above-average driver to actually be an above-average driver.

And the upshot is exactly as you say: everyone thinks that everyone else is the problem, which doesn't really make an individual receptive to educational messages.

I'm most definitely with you on hit-and-run, and if I may indulge in a little self-quotation: "Holding a driver's license is not a right, it's a privilege—and like most privileges it carries with it certain responsibilities. And if someone demonstrates that they are not capable of fulfilling those responsibilities—say, by failing to render assistance after a crash—they should have their driving privileges removed. Permanently."

Failing to stop at a collision scene should be treated as the serious crime that it is, not a minor traffic infringement: offenders should go to jail.

4:16 pm  
Blogger Chris L said...

I don't doubt for one second that self-serving bias is an issue. However, realistically it's an issue that's been around for a million years, and one that isn't going to go away anytime soon.

Policy makers therefore need to be aware of this, and adjust their message and/or their whole approach accordingly. In short, if self-serving bias prevents people from being receptive to educational messages, it's time to move on to another approach to which people will be far more receptive. I understand fines and prison sentences are fairly effective in this regard.

1:49 pm  
Blogger Jai Normosone said...

I quite like the idea of everything you say and I might add that automatic loss of the vehicle with it to be sold at auction and proceeds to go to a Victims Of Crime association (and if there are monies owed on it, it will proceed exactly as per normal and no "hardship" plea can be entertained).

I doubt this will ever happen though while the country is full of meathead magistrates who want to be pseudo-social-workers rather than upholding the law and the rights of victims.

1:08 pm  
Blogger Chris L said...

I quite like your idea of auctioning off offending vehicles and donating the proceeds to the victims. I agree that it's unlikely to ever happen, but we can dream!

7:55 pm  

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