Driving is a Scream - Do Fear Based Safety Ads Work?


Stack of TVs in dark room.
Photo by Murai .hr on Unsplash

If you hang around the internet long enough, you might have caught one of many shocking advertisements that are broadcast around the world aimed at increasing vehicle safety. These ads tend to highlight worst case scenarios and are often pretty gory. They're certainly not easy to forget, but the bigger question is - do they actually work?


An article in Science Daily covers how new research seems to be suggesting that when educational content is fear-based, it does little to actually improve safety.


The study was conducted by having some participants watch VR educational films that were fear-based, while having others watch VR educational films that had a more positive focus. Other tests included having participants taking safety quizzes after watching video clips and measuring emotional responses to watching video clips.


"The results showed that participants who viewed the fear-based VR film reported riskier driving behaviors afterward, while those who viewed a positively framed VR film exhibited the greatest reduction in risky driving behavior."

What this means for how fear-based campaigns impact drivers is an interesting question. On the face of it, it's easy to believe that fear-based campaigns would reinforce safe driving behaviors by showing viewers a visceral example of what could happen to them when safety is not prioritized. But the result has proven to be quite different.


As the Science Daily noted:


"This finding supports other research that has shown that exposing participants to an extreme graphic collision tends to activate defensive mechanisms, such as paying attention for a shorter time, disengaging, rejecting a message, and an increase in risky behaviors."

The reality is that most of us ultimately understand how dangerous driving can be. It's not uncommon to see the after-math of a collision when driving, and the nightly news often features tragic stories of people losing their lives in collisions.


One of the things that is said to make people better drivers is confidence, and in this regard, it's easy to understand how positive messaging that reinforces confidence and that induces viewers to follow the safety guidelines they already know could have the upper hand on fear-based content.


For more on the study, check out the original article in Science Daily.