Message and Delivery System Recommendations

While this project calls for the development of recommendations for messages and delivery systems, it should be noted that development efforts should not be based solely on focus group studies. More extensive quantitative research should be conducted to determine the relationship between the unsafe behaviors identified in this study and traffic crashes for 15- to 18-year-olds. For example, does street racing actually cause serious crashes or does it just seem to be dangerous?

Further focus group and one-on-one interview research should be conducted to explore in greater depth the attitudes and preferences expressed by the participants in these focus groups. For example, how widespread is the view that parents should play a stronger role in controlling their children’s behavior?

The recommendations below, therefore, are given with the caveat that it is premature to begin development of any specific strategy until further research is conducted.

Message Content and Style

  • The focus groups in this study suggest that the current generation of new drivers needs to hear factual messages about drunk driving and safety belt use.

  • The focus groups also indicate that teen participants may also need to hear messages about other behaviors that have been determined to be risky for this population, such as following too closely, excessive speed, and the consequences of common distractions. Teen participants report that they seem to base their perception of what adults consider important by the number of public service announcements they hear. They are not hearing any messages about these behaviors.

  • Teen participants reported that parents need to learn that if they communicate their concerns, affection, and expectations to their children, they may be able to affect their child’s driving behavior. The teen participants who knew that their parents would punish them if they violated the law, and that their parents would be devastated if any harm came to them, were more likely to be regular belt users. They seemed to be more conscious of the consequences of their actions, and they modified their behavior to avoid negative consequences.

  • The focus groups indicate that one way messages can be aimed at teens is modeling after the Truth ads developed to combat smoking, That is, the advertisements should avoid preaching or telling teens what decisions they should make, and concentrate on providing the teens with facts on which to base their decisions.

  • Focus groups indicated that traffic safety messages for teens should employ powerful graphic images more than lengthy narrative to capture a teen’s attention. These graphics should force teens to think about traffic crashes in a new way because they currently believe that they
    know all there is to know.

  • While teen participants reported that they generally enjoy puzzles, contests, and surveys, they do not seem interested in this delivery approach for traffic safety messages.

  • In the focus groups, teen participants report that traffic safety messages must be “real” to teens, meaning that they should include true stories about their peers who were involved in crashes or about parents who lost a child. Since many teen participants report that they have trouble predicting consequences, these messages must enable them to experience, to the extent possible, the effects a crash might have. Ideally, these messages should be delivered by real crash victims, family members, and friends.

  • Additionally, focus groups indicate that message designers need to recognize what a significant role a car plays in the life of a young man, and to some extent a young woman. A car represents freedom, excitement, socialization, companionship, and all-around entertainment. It is not likely that any message campaign will succeed in altering that relationship. At best, a message campaign can probably only hope to instill some awareness of the more severe risks and of the importance of responsible behavior in certain circumstances.

Delivery Mechanisms

  • In this study, focus groups suggest that teens seem to equate importance with production values and saturation. If a message is important they expect it to show up everywhere, on TV, on the radio, in billboards, in the movies, in posters and in news stories. Currently traffic safety messages are not showing up anywhere, implying that traffic crashes are less important than smoking deaths or drug use.

  • Teen participants indicated that messages delivered on the radio should not involve prerecorded commercials, (unless they are as powerful as the Truth messages. Rather, the local DJs should talk about traffic safety, giving specific facts that will help teens make up their minds about their own driving behavior.

  • Of the various delivery mechanisms explored in the focus groups, radio, TV, movies, and billboards appear to be the most popular among teen participants. These are the traditional delivery mechanisms, which seems surprising considering teenagers’ devotion to new technology. However, the teen participants were vehemently opposed to interrupting their access to their cell phones or the Internet to deliver traffic safety messages. It is not clear if teens would ignore messages delivered through the Internet or if they would pay attention even while they were complaining.

  • The focus groups suggest that small group discussions offer promise as a means of allowing teens to explore their beliefs and anxieties about driving and to hear how their peers feel about critical issues. Schools and youth organizations should explore options for stimulating these types of discussions. To the extent possible, victims of crashes should be included in these discussions so that teens can learn first-hand what the consequences of a crash really are.

  • In the focus groups, the teen participants indicated that the only local official who should be considered as a delivery mechanism is the coroner or paramedic who can discuss what happens to teenagers when they are involved in serious or fatal crashes. Teen participants report that they are very curious about what happens in a crash but they seem to believe that adults do not trust them with the facts.

  • Parents can have a powerful impact on their children yet many teen participants reported that their parents did not care about their driving experience. To the extent possible, parents should be mobilized to communicate their concerns about their children’s driving behavior. It seemed that the teen participants who reported the most extreme, reckless behavior were the same teens who said their parents did not care where they were, paid all their bills including repairing damages to car the teens wrecked, and would be unwilling to withdraw driving privileges because it would be inconvenient. One of the quietest but most telling comments came from one of the most outspoken “bad boys” in the group, who said it would help if parents kept telling their kids how much they loved them.