How social norms put the brakes on bad driving habits

Worker driving pick up truck

A little nudge from the community improves driver safety

Motor vehicle incidents in Ontario account for more than 38 percent of all worker traumatic fatalities, and now, a recent study has found that encouraging workers to speak up about risky driving behaviour in the workplace – using a technique called ‘Positive Community Norms’ – can be a powerful tool to reinforce social norms about safe driving. 

Transforming road safety culture could have a tremendous effect when you consider these numbers from the 2009 Ontario Road Safety Annual Report.

  • 216,315 collisions
  • 564 fatalities
  • 62,562 people injured
  • 4,824 hospital admissions
  • 47,040 days of stay in hospitals

Employees at high risk

Did you know driving is one of the highest risk activities an employee can undertake? Unlike a worksite, employers cannot control the types of drivers and vehicles that share the road with their employees.

If employers have workers driving from site to site, travelling to a meeting, or even going out on a coffee run, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board considers them to be occupational drivers. Between 2006 and 2010, the board reported more than 7,000 lost-time injury claims and 149 fatalities involving occupational driving.

“Positive community norms enable us to switch the way we approach reducing risky driving behaviours,” says Thom Foster, consultant-trainer with Workplace Safety North. “It allows us to acknowledge that most people drive safely, and encourage them to realize they have the power to influence dangerous drivers by speaking up and promoting safe driving habits.”

Top 6 dangerous driving habits we’re afraid to speak up about

Most of us are good, safe drivers. The greatest danger comes from a small number of people who ignore traditional safety messages. According to a survey by Montana State University’s Center for Health and Safety Culture, respondents identified six main activities that triggered a strong sense of disapproval and potential harm.

  • Not wearing a seatbelt
  • Reading or sending text messages while driving
  • Using a cell phone while driving – with or without hands-free technology
  • Driving while fatigued, excessively tired, or sick
  • Driving aggressively and speeding
  • Driving after drinking

Respondents believed they should try to prevent co-workers from engaging in these risky habits, but they weren’t sure how to go about speaking up. They felt they lacked the knowledge, confidence, or sense of support from co-workers and supervisors to do so.

Positive Community Norms have become a powerful method of changing our attitudes and behaviour, and have played an active role in campaigns regarding seat belt use, smoking, and drinking and driving. Now safety experts plan to apply the PCN method to help reduce dangerous driving habits.

How employers can make a difference

Based on survey results, there are three ways in which workplaces can help reduce the risk of motor vehicle incidents among employees:

1.    Establish a clear sense of concern about risky driving habits

  • Communicate to all employees the risks associated with certain driving behaviour, especially those with lower perceptions of harm and disapproval

2.    Build the skills, confidence and sense of support for employees to prevent co-workers 
       from engaging in risky driving habits

  • Build on existing strong positive norms 
  • Use comprehensive, universal media campaigns to reach all employees
  • Explore ways to incorporate the encouragement of bystander engagement in your existing communication materials and training programs

3.    Bolster strategies to engage employees in preventing risky driving habits among their co-workers

  • Review policies, procedures and processes to eliminate the potential for engaging in potentially risky driving habits
  • Embed bystander engagement training into safety programs
  • Foster accurate communication of norms and expectations by supervisors and managers

Best safe driving apps

  • Top 9 Apps for Safe Driving
  • Waze is a GPS-based navigational app which uses turn-by-turn navigation, as well as user-submitted travel times and route details. Waze is the world's fastest-growing community-based traffic and navigation app. Drivers share real-time traffic and road info, saving time and gas money on the daily commute. Waze won the Best Overall Mobile App award at the 2013 Mobile World Congress, beating Dropbox, Flipboard and others. On June 11, 2013 Google completed the acquisition of Waze for a reported US$1.03 billion.