Communications and Outreach on Drowsy Driving
States including Iowa, Texas, New York, and Utah and national organizations such as NSF have conducted drowsy driving communications and outreach campaigns directed to the public (Fischer, 2016; Stutts et al., 2005). Campaign goals usually include raising awareness of the dangers of drowsy driving; motivating drivers to take action to reduce drowsy driving; and providing information on what drivers can do, either before they start out on a trip or if they become drowsy while driving. The GHSA summarizes public awareness efforts by NHTSA, the AAAFTS, and the AASM in its 2016 report to States (Fischer, 2016). The focus is on the development of evidence-based messages on the risk of driver drowsiness, implementation or enhancement of employer-provided policies and education, and the development of web-accessible awareness material for the general population.
The goal of drowsy driving communications and outreach is to change driver behavior; however, there are substantial obstacles. As discussed in other chapters, communications and outreach by themselves rarely change driving behavior. To have any chance of success, stand-alone campaigns must be carefully pre-tested, communicate health information not previously known, be long-term, and have substantial funding (Williams, 2007).
Drowsy driving messages may compete with other priorities conflicting with a driver getting enough sleep. Focus group discussions with young men and shift workers, two groups at high risk of drowsy driving, supported this conclusion (Nelson et al., 2001). Most shift workers and many young men understood well the risks caused by lack of sleep. Many had crashed or almost crashed after falling asleep at the wheel or had friends who had crashed. But neither their knowledge nor their crash experience changed their sleep habits. They sacrificed sleep for the demands of their work, families, and social lives.
A couple of studies have found messaging to be somewhat effective in the case of drowsy driving. However, the results should be interpreted with caution. In Greece a national communication campaign was implemented in 2008 and 2009 to curb drowsy driving. Titled Sleep, but not at the wheel, the campaign was designed to raise awareness of the risks of driving while tired, and to increase knowledge of effective countermeasures to reduce fatigue (e.g., taking short breaks while driving). The campaign included thousands of TV and radio messages, as well as posters and leaflets distributed across the country (Adamos et al., 2013). The study’s conclusion was that it raised awareness, but there was no objective measure of behavior change.
In a more recent study, Rahman and Kang (2020) examined the effect of a drowsy driving advisory system on two rural stretches of highway in Alabama. They found that using a combination of messaging in the form of roadside signs before a rest area reduced drowsy driving crashes from pre-intervention levels by 64% in one location. However, the signs were used in combination with the rest stops, so any intervention of this kind would need to be conducted with infrastructure already in place.
The goal of an awareness-raising campaign is to influence the behavior of an individual through information and education. This approach presumes that the audience lacks the information and that simply learning the information will be sufficient to change behavior. However, this approach fails to consider or address the other factors that influence the behavior (e.g., work schedules, family responsibilities, etc.).