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Op-Ed: VW safety experiment aims at reducing drivers’ speeds

VW’s Reduce Speed Dial Experiment asked the children of four New Zealand families to create personalized artwork and messages for the speedometers of their parents’ Volkswagen Golfs. The children also wrote the numbers notifying their parents of their current speed in their own handwriting. VW Researchers hypothesized that the experiment could show a significant impact on the behavior of drivers who felt tempted to speed by providing them with an up close and very personal reminder of the importance of safety at the very moment they felt compelled to engage in potentially unsafe behavior.

Promising Results

The results of the experiment indicate that those researchers were right on track. One family reduced their maximum speed by 19 kmh (about 11 mph). Three out of four of the families in the study reduced their incidences of speeding in 100 km zones by 50 percent. One family recorded absolutely no incidences of speeding at all after the personalized speedometer was installed.

Tom Ruddenklau, General Manager at Volkswagen New Zealand says that the project was aimed about experimenting with safety measures that go beyond the construction of the vehicle and innovations that engineers can create inside a testing facility.

“With Volkswagen Group the biggest spending R&D company in the world, we focus on engineering safer cars year after year. But safety ratings don’t change driver behaviour – and there’s an opportunity for our brand to do our bit in trialling some things that may.”

Potential Impact

VW’s project was an uncontrolled study focused on a small group of participants, so it’s difficult to determine the potential impact on a grand scale, but even if the results are only partially replicated in further studies, it could still have a huge repercussions on world auto safety.

The U.S. Department of Transportation reports that 9,944 of the 32,467 road related fatalities in 2011 were speeding related.

Behavior Modification in Auto Safety

The VW experiment is just the latest example of how behavior modification techniques are being applied by those dedicated to automobile safety. Convincing drivers to use safety belts may be the largest and most significant example of changing driver behavior to decrease driving related injuries and fatalities. American car manufacturers began offering optional seatbelts in vehicles in the late 1950s but it wasn’t until the 1970s that engineers really started experimenting with ways to have a psychological impact on drivers to encourage seat belt use. Perhaps the most popular and lasting safety belt related behavior modification invention has been the SBR—the Seat Belt Reminder system that features a dashboard light reminder and, in some cases, an audio reminder to drivers when they’re driving without a seatbelt.

Automobile dashboards have become a powerful platform for alerting and reminding drivers of potential safety issues. Modern day automobiles feature many dashboard reminders of potential automobile conditions that could cause safety problems including notifications about unclosed doors, tire pressure, and other mechanical problems.
VW’s Reduce Speed Dial Experiment has gone a step further by creating an emotional element with their safety feature. Further research is clearly needed to determine whether the experiment could profoundly change the face of auto safety, but early signs seem to indicate that this personal touch could be a powerful reminder that getting to one’s destination safely is more important than getting there quickly.

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