Creating Safer Communities: Effective Communication Strategy for Vulnerable Road Users

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MTI researchers explore the differential effect of message framing on attitudes and intended behaviors related to pedestrian and cyclist traffic safety
August 19, 2022
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San José, CA

Despite increased efforts to improve safety in recent years, California continues to have a high rate of pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities (972 pedestrian fatalities and 133 bicycle fatalities in 2019). Currently, the state lacks a cohesive messaging strategy to improve pedestrian and cyclist traffic safety. To fulfill this need, new Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) research, Creating Safer Communities for the Use of Active Transportation Modes in California: The Development of Effective Communication Message Strategy for Vulnerable Road Users, showcases the differential effect of message framing on attitudes and intended behaviors related to pedestrian and cyclists traffic safety practices. The report also investigates factors contributing to accidents involving vulnerable road users and preventive measures to decrease such events.

The study’s findings revealed that:

  • Attitudes and perceptions (e.g., attitudes toward other road users, perception of who “owns” space, etc.) are important factors that contribute to accidents involving vulnerable road users.
  • Based on stakeholders interviews (including leaders of advocacy groups for vulnerable segments, transportation professionals and experts in California, and city officials), a clear gap exists in participants’ understanding of the importance of messaging strategy in altering behaviors.
  • Messages framed with a limited time horizon (e.g., “Because Life is Shorter than You Think, Focus on the Moment”), which prime recipients to focus on the present, had a positive significant impact on their perceptions of the effectiveness of the message to enhance safety of vulnerable road users.

“The limited time horizon message—‘Because Life is Shorter than You Think, Focus on the Moment’—was rated more effective by participants,” explain the study’s authors. “This suggests that when targeting wider audiences across the state of California, it would be beneficial to frame messages to focus on a short time horizon.”

Given that the main objective of communication messages is to change attitudes—and, consequently, behaviors—the qualitative portion of this study further emphasizes the need to dedicate resources (e.g., expertise, finances) to the development of effective and strategic communication messages that are theory-driven and evidence-based. California transportation authorities, professionals, and advocacy groups will be able to use the results of this research to effectively allocate communication efforts and spending to induce attitudinal and behavioral change that can improve the safety of active transportation modes and make roads safer for vulnerable road users.

ABOUT THE MINETA TRANSPORTATION INSTITUTE

At the Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) at San Jose State University (SJSU) our mission is to increase mobility for all by improving the safety, efficiency, accessibility, and convenience of our nations’ transportation system. Through research, education, workforce development and technology transfer, we help create a connected world. Founded in 1991, MTI is funded through the US Departments of Transportation and Homeland Security, the California Department of Transportation, and public and private grants, including those made available by the Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017 (SB1). MTI is affiliated with SJSU’s Lucas College and Graduate School of Business.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS
This research was conducted under the California State University Transportation Consortium (CSUTC). Dr. Samer Sarofim is an award-winning marketing scholar and educator. He served as a Faculty Fellow at Fresno State Transportation Institute and is an Assistant Professor of Marketing at the Craig School of Business, California State University, Fresno. Sarofim is also the recipient of Pearson Education Michael Solomon Consumer Behavior Best Paper Award and the Society for Marketing Advances Conference, Retailing Track Best Paper Award. Dr. Aly M. Tawfik is an Associate Professor of Transportation Systems Engineering and the Founding Director of the Transportation Institute at California State University, Fresno. While his area of expertise includes modeling, simulation, and optimization of individual travel behavior and of transportation systems, he has a particular passion for transportation sustainability and the future of transportation. He is the author of many peer-reviewed publications and has given keynote presentations at local, national, and international conferences.

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Dr. Hilary Nixon
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