The other day, while watching TV I noticed an advertisement on TV encouraging teenagers to speak up in situations when their peers are driving recklessly to reduce accidents. The ad was a bit corny, but for whatever reason it was memorable. Would it have changed by behavior in any way when I was a teenager? Would it affect me now (memories of one relatively recent trip driving with a friend to Vermont going about 140 miles an hour -the friend was driving – in a snow storm at midnight comes to mind)?

My colleague Billy Jack and his co-author James Habyarimana have released an updated working paper looking exactly at whether such interventions are effective at improving the driving of Matatu drivers in Kenya. The basic idea of the paper is that bad driving has negative consequences on the rest of society (injuries to those in the van or those injured by the van, direct economic effects of the accidents, etc) and randomizes a VERY simple and inexpensive intervention aimed at reducing this behavior. The intervention was the installation of stickers telling Matatu passengers to speak up when their driver is driving recklessness. The intervention reduce the number of reported accidents, specifically reported accidents where drivers were at fault, greatly improving welfare with a simple and cheap intervention. Drivers in the treated buses reported significantly increased complaints from passengers suggesting that it was the behavior of passengers that influenced the driving of the drivers.

I guess my skepticism does not apply to such a situation. It seems that information and empowerment can have a significant impact on behavior in this context. It also suggests that similar types of low-cost targeted interventions may also be effective ways at reducing the burden of road traffic injuries around the world.

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