PNSMA Fall Forum: Traffic Safety Culture & Social Change Marketing

tyler tullis
Sara Johnston
Partner

by Oct 11, 2019Point of View

by Oct 11, 2019Point of View

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I currently sit on the board of directors for the pacific northwest marketing association (PNSMA) and love the opportunities to work alongside other communications professionals and researchers to create an impact in our community. Recently, I attended PNSMA’s quarterly Fall Forum.

Being able participate in this year’s Fall Forum was a real treat as the forum featured new formative research from the Washington Traffic Safety Commission (WTSC) — one of our wonderful clients here at DH! WTSC presented research they had conducted on the behaviors, values, and beliefs of drivers across the state, focusing on the growing role of cannabis in crash fatalities, especially poly-substance use. This deeper understanding of impaired driving will inform future efforts to positively influence the traffic safety culture in Washington.

What is WTSC?

WTSC is an organization responsible for building partnerships and implementing efforts across the state in order to prevent injuries and accidents on our roadways. They are considered a national leader in traffic safety and work to pioneer programs to improve safety on our roadways. The Commission adopted Target Zero, a plan with the ambitious goal of eliminating traffic deaths and injuries in the state of Washington by 2030. WTSC aims to achieve this in many ways, including their safety focused programs, education, communications platforms, trainings and more.

Miriam Norman on the impacts of driving while impaired.

In Seattle, I heard Washington Traffic Safety Resource Prosecutor Miriam Norman, present their research on cannabis use and the work the WTSC team has done to uncover beliefs and attitudes surrounding this topic in relation to drivers in Washington. As the Traffic Safety Resource Prosecutor, she is a resource for all prosecutors and officers in the State of Washington who are handling impaired driving cases or providing training and legal advice to attorneys prosecuting impaired driving cases. She also assists in drafting legislative resolutions.

Through this research, Miriam and WTSC found that impaired driving is the leading contributing factor in Washington fatal crashes. Post-legalization, we are seeing cannabis playing a larger role across fatalities. Poly-substance use — when a driver is impaired by multiple substances — is a factor in one-quarter of Washington’s crashes and most often is a combination of cannabis and alcohol.

Traffic Safety Culture – understanding existing beliefs about DUI-CA.

WTSC’s research highlighted cannabis is playing a growing role in crash fatalities. Some stats I found especially concerning from Miriam’s presentation were:

  • The use of cannabis across the state has gone up significantly over the last decade, and so has the number of people who drive under the influence of cannabis:
    • Weekend, nighttime drivers testing positive for THC increased by 50% from 2007 to 2014.
    • In June 2014, 11% of weekend, night-time drivers reported they had driven within two hours of using cannabis at least once in the past 12 months.
  • By 2016, poly-drug drivers (including alcohol) involved in fatal crashes were more than twice the number of alcohol-only drivers and more than five times the number of cannabis-only drivers.

This set of data rang alarm bells for me and helped to underscore the importance of, first understanding the attitude and cultural belief around impaired driving, and secondly, the fact we need to do something about it.

A bright spot in the data is Washington state has a positive traffic safety culture. The majority of people in Washington do not drive high and drunk (91%) and most believe it is unacceptable to do so. As a state, we have a real opportunity to grow what is good.

Addressing a Problem using Social Change Marketing

To grow what is good, we as a traffic safety community have the power to positively influence our peers. DH has been supporting WTSC accomplish their goals over the last few years – covering topics ranging from impaired driving to seatbelt and pedestrian safety. We also work across the state on an ongoing basis with local Target Zero Managers to promote traffic safety at the community level.

As we build social change campaigns, we anchor everything in research from our messaging to how we place media, Miriam’s work really challenges our team to develop strategic goals and positive calls to action that chip away at dangerous behavior by promoting positive solutions.

We look at positive behaviors our audiences can adopt to promote traffic safety: being a sober driver, developing a plan to get home before going out, using rideshares or public transit to stay off the roads. And, most importantly, growing what is good by influencing their friends and family to do the same. This is where our role as social change marketers came into play in shaping the right messages for this campaign in order to promote a cultural shift away from dangerous behaviors.

We are passionate about helping to create a healthier and safer Washington, from our roadways, to public health, to the environment. We have enjoyed transforming WTSC’s research and insight into various strategic social change campaigns over the years to get us closer to Target Zero.

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