Safety Warnings Must be Repeated to be Remembered

By: Frank Kenna

Have you ever run a red light and then got a ticket by mail from a camera that took your photo?  If so, then you’ve got company.  Los Angeles alone issued over 40,000 last year.

Many communities warn motorists that they’re going too fast before they enter an intersection armed with one of these automatic cameras, but many people run the red lights anyway.

This makes me wonder about a couple of things.  First, are these red light cameras worth it, and second, why do people see the warnings and get caught anyway?

The first one is easy, if you don’t consider the political angle.  According to the Insurance Institute For Highway Safety, about 800 people each year get killed in accidents involving red light running.  And another 137,000 get injured.  It seems that anything that can be done to lessen that toll is worth it, especially considering that many of those hurt or killed are innocent victims.

So then – why would someone run a red light after just having seen a warning that they’re speeding?  That one’s not so easy to answer, but I think I have a clue, and it has to do with seeing a message only once.  We know that in the workplace communications field, that you have to expose people to a message multiple times before they really “see” it.

Let’s say you’re trying to communicate safety and put up a safety poster.  The first time an employee walks by it, he may notice something’s different, but the message won’t sink in.  According to research, it takes about 3-4 visual repetitions for a person to learn something.

So just like a person ignoring a safety poster, that same person may ignore a warning about speeding and get a ticket anyway.  While giving tickets is one way to make a point, more warnings about the behavior – i.e., preventing it – may be a better solution.

Sharon Toelle
July 7, 2010

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