Smoking, drinking alcohol, and driving are generally initiated during adolescence. While those communicating the intervention may consider the negative aspects of risk taking, those receiving the message may be more concerned with positive aspects. Portraying an activity as requiring adult status (alcohol, sex, smoking, driving) may amplify the attraction for adolescents.

This may be one reason that ‘fear appeals’ don’t always work.

Using Sensationalising tactics in YDI's

A number of YDIs have been predicated on fear appeals. The view that “If only these young people could see the horrendous carnage that can result from Road Traffic Accidents, they would be so shocked they would immediately stop risky behaviour on the road", is commonplace. But is it effective in changing behaviour?

Scared Straight

The type of programmes attempting to change the attitudes and behaviour of young people using tactics based on shocking messages, or by generating fear, originated in the US in the 1970s. Young people identified as delinquent were taken to a prison environment and subjected to ‘scare tactics’ by the inmates. The term ‘Scared Straight’ was originally used in a TV documentary about such schemes.

However, evaluation research found little evidence of positive impact on future delinquent behaviour. Indeed some studies showed worse results, with offending and recidivism rates increasing after attendance.

One reason put forward for this result was that the juveniles found the adult prisoners to be attractive role models. Invited to reflect on ‘Would I cope with this?’, the most attractive answer to the adolescent seeking self-esteem and ‘respect’ was not ‘No, so I’d better not risk it’ but ‘Yes. So I’d better start working out how to conquer my fear’. Not the desired result of the programme at all.

A different approach

Applied to YDI's, this evaluation suggests that sensationalising, shocking images of injuries and scare tactics are not effective in changing young driver behaviour and may in fact have the opposite effect in some cases where young people are attracted to risky and dangerous behaviour.

Keeping evidence like this in mind while you’re designing your Young Driver Intervention will help you create a training session that changes behaviour in young people, rather than scaring them or inadvertently encouraging risk taking.