Backseat drivers! We all have our opinions about backseat drivers and have heard many jokes about them. Believe it or not, a study done a few years ago showed there is a benefit from having more backseat drivers. Backseat drivers can ultimately save thousands of lives.
The numbers are alarming
Each year more than 55 million people die on this planet. Most of these deaths are health related due to various diseases. Heart disease is the number 1 cause of death. Road traffic deaths come in 9th place. They expect to see road traffic deaths move up the ladder as medical advancements lower health related deaths. It is predicted that road fatalities might eventually become the 5th leading cause of death. Sadly, road traffic accidents are already the leading cause of death of those between the ages 15 to 29.
Worldwide in 2015, road injuries killed 1.3 million people (that’s about 3,500 people per day). The under 25 age group experienced about 400,000 road fatalities, which is over 1,000 young people per day.
Rich or poor country problem?
It certainly is more of a poor country problem. Poorer countries have only half the number of cars in comparison to developed countries but they have 92% of the road fatalities. Why? Developed countries generally have better roads, newer and safer vehicles, better emergency medical services, and better enforced driving regulations.
Seeing the magnitude of this issue in poorer countries, a couple of university researchers from the United States undertook a trial study in Kenya. They wanted to see if they could make a difference. This is where backseat driving comes into play.
Backseat drivers make a difference
Much of the transportation system in Kenya relies on privately operated small busses or vans. You likely have seen similar transportation in other countries when travelling abroad. The accident rates for these mini-buses were huge and the researchers wanted to try something new. They wanted to motivate passengers to speak up against bad driving rather than just nervously sit in the back of the bus. They wanted to create more backseat drivers.
The researchers put safety stickers on the dashboards of 2,500 mini-buses. The stickers said things like “Don’t just SIT there as he drives dangerously!, STAND UP, SPEAK UP, NOW”. They also posted images of severed limbs with similar messages. There was no phone number to call and no form to fill out. It was “just speak to the driver”. To entice the bus drivers to participate, they gave raffle prizes to those who volunteered to put the stickers in their vehicles.
The results from the sticker intervention was compelling. Bus accident rates dropped by 50%. Independent insurance claims before and after the intervention fell by a half to two-thirds. Claims involving injury or death fell by 60%.
So what was the motivation for the safer driving effect? Was it the driver’s fear that backseat drivers would complain to them? Was it actual passenger complaints to the drivers causing them to drive safely? While researchers were unable to identify the exact mechanism(s) creating the effect, this sticker intervention was more cost effective in reducing deaths than many other documented public health interventions. The cost of the sticker program was minimal, estimated at $6 per life (less than a medical vaccination).
To view a presentation from one of the researchers, click to watch their 17-minute video here.
The million dollar question
Can backseat driving work in North America?
- Would drivers drive more safely if they knew people could easily comment back to them or their bosses?
- Would drivers drive more safely if they thought that people would actually take the time to report their unsafe driving rather than just grumbling about it?
- Would commercial drivers drive more safely if they knew their employer is asking for and promoting driver feedback from the public?
Let’s face it, no passenger wants to be a backseat driver. Ask yourself … will you complain to one of your family members if they are driving unsafely? Complain to a friend if they are texting and driving? Complain to a co-worker if they are driving too fast or have been drinking?
You only get one life, take care of it! If you’re a passenger, trust your instincts and speak up. Backseat driving is a good thing … there we said it!
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