Belt Up! How to spark behaviour change in Young Male Drivers

Creating a positive impact in our communities means addressing social issues at both local and national government level to build a safer, flourishing society. It may come as a surprise, but currently in the UK there is a risk of growing complacency amongst drivers and passengers when it comes to road safety, in particular wearing seat belts.

by Bella Ali-Khan | Social | 15 November 2021

Wearing a seat belt may be second nature to most people, but there still remains a contingent for whom consistently wearing a seat belt is not their default. 

Drivers and passengers aged 17–34 have the lowest seat belt wearing rates1, and the highest accident rate. Kent County Council recently challenged us to create a campaign that tackled low rates of seat belt wearing in and around Kent. The target audience? Young male drivers. Here we dive into our process for understanding, challenging and sparking change in this tricky to reach audience.  

Understanding the behaviour 

Across the UK, drivers and passengers aged 17–34 have the lowest seat belt wearing rates, combined with the highest accident rate1. For some it’s down to comfort, or it’s simply not seen as a priority when driving around with mates. For others, they perhaps haven’t been properly educated of the risks, and don’t see themselves as someone for whom the risks apply. 

In 2018 almost a third of people2 who died in vehicles in the UK were not wearing a seat belt. So is there ever a good-enough reason not to wear a seat belt? 

The short answer is no, but an individual’s surrounding environment has a huge impact on their seat belt habits and attitudes to road safety. We found there are two types of people to consider when it comes to seat belt safety. The first are Violators, who consistently don’t wear seat belts, and the second are Lapsers, those who are inconsistent. So what’s the problem here? Wearing seat belts keeps you safe AND helps you avoid heavy penalties – so why are some people still not wearing them?  

From our internal research we understand that there are five key reasons why people don’t wear seat belts: 

Compliance is significantly moulded by the education an individual receives, whether through families, driving lessons, or even through TV advertisements seen over the years. If a driver’s background hasn’t offered the right learnings early on, then the responsibility falls to government to provide the right communications.  

Sparking a shift 

This is not a new problem. Triggers exist already, aimed at transforming poor seat belt behaviour into higher rates of compliance. Many countries have regulations that stipulate car manufacturers must build in seat belt reminder systems (that unrelenting beeping) in all front and rear seats.  

Despite this, during a two-week observance in Kent in July 2020, 612 people were given tickets for seat belt offences (Kent Police, 2020). The majority of the offenders were young males, which narrowed down our audience significantly.  

So the question is, what can be done at a local and government level to get the message through to the target audience and spark the behavioural shift? 

Communicating to Young Male Drivers 

To communicate with our audience of young, male drivers , we needed to reach them with relatable themes and language. It’s not enough to say “Don’t do it”; the big, red button mentality still plays its part today.  

Research shows that creating new behaviour in relation to assessing risk has three ways in, to best communicate with the audience.  

So which approach works best? Here are our top tips to get you started… 

Researching and testing the target audience 

Carry out focus groups with your target audience to understand their attitudes towards the issue, say seat belt compliance, then test different creative routes. 

Insights from these groups can demonstrate a strong preference for communications I.e. landing a simple, clear message that can positively reinforce wearing a seat belt. 

Consider your platforms and touchpoints  

Consider what channels your audience uses to communicate and draws information from. For example, many younger generations use social media as a resource for news and current affairs, versus older audiences’ preference for radio or TV. 

Be relevant 

After understanding what platform to engage with them on, you can then get creative with relevant cultural moments that resonate with them and tie these into the theme or messaging of your campaign.  

And don’t forget… 

Always follow up to reinforce the messages and key behaviour change you are targeting. 

When it comes to changing behaviour in a social context, the audience is key to unlocking successful communications.  

To understand more about social communications, strategies and more – sign up to be notified for our 2022 Ignite Social Report.