An appeal to drivers’ hearts

Elm Grove Police Department in Wisconsin developed an outdoor campaign to promote the concept, ‘Slower is Better’. Photo courtesy of Slower is Better Campaign.

In a state where getting an umlaut added to a road sign required gubernatorial intervention, it’s unlikely the idea will work here but a movement is growing to appeal to drivers’ hearts to get them to pay attention and stop killing people.

Again this morning, some Twin Cities drivers proved they don’t know how to drive properly.

True, construction makes that stretch of I-94 particularly nasty but it’s a straight line and a person, applying the same effort they applied when taking their road test years ago, should be able to navigate the challenge without bumping into someone else. This isn’t hard.

On the east side of the Metro, the high-speed lane proved too much for the commute.

There’s nothing special about either of these crashes, of course. It’s just a typical commute in the region.

Will anything get people to drive correctly?

Maybe a road sign with emotional appeal will, Macleans reports today, documenting the rise in emotional appeals to drivers, to compensate for what the brain can’t seem to handle.

(Petulia) Pugliares’s project is part of a burgeoning global movement that’s taking on traditional traffic signage. Some signs, like hers, are homegrown: Last year, after a van struck and killed a seven-year-old girl in Toronto’s Leaside neighbourhood, the city’s residential streets became blanketed in signs, designed by a local father of three, that said, “Slow down, kids at play,” against the silhouette of a child’s face.

Other examples similarly appeal to emotions: Since 2007, WorkSafeBC has outfitted construction zones in British Columbia with notices that read, “Slow down, my mommy works here.” Some are whimsical: The town of Oak Lawn, Ill., accessorized its stop signs with messages such as “in the name of love” and “or I’m telling your mom.” (The bureaucrats at the state transportation department promptly ordered them removed.)

Other signs are unnerving: In Elm Grove, Wis., radar speed signs detect drivers’ speeds and relay, in real time, how many days they’d spend in hospital if they crashed. And a few are downright eerie: The English city of Leicester installed life-sized child mannequins (imagine three-foot-tall foosball players) on the edge of school-zone sidewalks in an attempt to get drivers to slow down.

Though geographically and stylistically diverse, the signs have one thing in common. Rather than merely communicating basic information, or threatening drivers with possible punishments, they convey or elicit empathy.

“Usually, the way we get people to follow rules is we wag our finger at them or threaten them,” says Daniel Pink, a bestselling American author who’s tracked the evolution of such signs. “All these people around the world are doing this, but they don’t have a name for it and they don’t even know other people are doing it.” So Pink coined a term: emotionally intelligent signage.

So far no one has studied whether emotionally intelligent signage works any better than standard traffic notices, according to Macleans. But can they be any more ineffective than what’s out there now?

With the continuing installation of message boards over Twin Cities highways, it wouldn’t be hard to try.

My entry?

“Remember the day you drove your first baby home from the hospital?”