Tuesday, June 4, 2013

TAC Ads Driver Fatigue 'We should wake up to hypnotic Road Signs' Herald Sun June 4th 2013

We should wake up to hypnotic road signs

Driver fatigue
A TAC driver fatigue sign. Source: Supplied
THE long drive between Sydney and Melbourne is an eye opener into some amazing scenery, a seemingly endless 880km road and a quantity of questionable road signs that exist on all our country roads.

Long ago TAC research discovered that driver fatigue contributed significantly to road trauma.
Subsequently, a road education campaign was conceived to alert drivers of the dangers of driver fatigue.

With those good intentions in mind, it devised a series of different messages and placed them on strategically positioned signage to drum home the safety message.

Most would assume that the TAC would take great care to craft words and messages that at best would be effective and, at worst, avoid being counter-productive.

But unfortunately their slogans were so naively conceived that it's possible they may have become an inadvertent contributor to increased driver fatigue and road trauma on country roads.

Here's one example: "Droopy eyes? Powernap Now." In other words, you are feeling tired, your eyes are droopy so it is time to take a powernap. Now!

In effect, the sign alerts tired drivers to their advanced state of fatigue and adds an extra component to the obstacle course of long-distance driving.

Many of the TAC's power words and phrases are coincidentally also used by hypnotists to bring on hypnotic induction. Here's an amalgam of some hypno-talk taken from signs on Victoria's country roads:

"Your eyes are getting droopy. You are having trouble concentrating. You're feeling drowsy with sore feet and tired eyes. Only sleep cures fatigue."

Those are all suggestive words. Hypnotists also commonly use the technique of reinforcing the same message with different words to create cumulative impact. The following sequence appeared on the Victorian leg of the Hume Highway.

"Droopy eyes? Powernap now
Tired? Powernap now
Sore eyes? Powernap now
Trouble concentrating? Powernap now
Weary? Powernap now
Yawning? Take a powernap"

All those messages build up the cumulative effect of fatigue. It is like saying your eyes are getting heavy, you're feeling exhausted. How good it would feel to nod off right now.

It should be noted that people who usually have a strong hold on their consciousness can be vulnerable to sleeping at the wheel on long trips and that various hypnotic states are experienced on the journey.

Let's explore the hypnosis of driving. For long periods of time drivers remain still in body while their minds are exposed to the drone of the car and the monotony of endless driving. Drivers in various states of hypnotic fatigue are already vulnerable to triggers that can induce even deeper states.

In effect, those signs chip away at the resistance that long-distance drivers must exercise to prevent themselves from falling asleep at the wheel or making a skill error.

Given that each of these "fatigue" signs precedes a resting point soon after, more than a hundred cars drive on for every driver that pulls over to take a rest. In other words, most tired drivers continue their journeys after seeing the signs.

Another danger is that a small minority of the most dangerously fatigued drivers will not be alert enough to read the whole sign and will notice only the suggestive word when they drive past. Fatigue, drowsy, tired, droopy eyes -- those are the last things they need.

On the NSW leg of the journey there was only one sign of concern; these tragi-comedic signs have been on display in Victoria for years. While it doesn't take rocket science to get the wording right, it takes low awareness to get it wrong. Primarily, the message should convey what it intends. It should never use words or phrases that are trigger-words for tiredness. It should avoid scare tactics that can plant a seed to be taken literally or trigger the opposite.

The Victorian public relies on the TAC to make its road safety messages as effective as possible. It should tap into its research to make them more effective and less risky.

Dean Frenkel is a Melbourne writer and hypnotherapist


TAC Reply: For the record - In response to Dean Frenkel - 04 Jun 2013

For the record, I strongly disagree with hypnotherapist Dean Frenkel’s opinion that the TAC’s fatigue campaigns may have become a contributor to increased driver fatigue and road trauma (“We should wake up to hypnotic road signs” Herald Sun, 4 June).

In fact, research proves that the opposite has occurred and these messages have helped our road toll reduce to its lowest point in history.

Our latest road safety monitor – research based on the thoughts of more than 1200 current and disqualified Victorian license holders – highlights that point.

Last year, 40 per cent of those surveyed said they had stopped to take a break from driving and 21 per cent reported stopping for a powernap.

The TAC’s fatigue messaging is based on the ‘A 15 minute Powernap Could Save Your Life’ campaign.

Following that campaign’s launch, 30 per cent of people surveyed said they had change their behaviour as a result of seeing the advertisements and stopped for a break if they were feeling tired while driving.

Messages placed on the billboards that Mr Frenkel mentioned are related to this campaign which was tested for effectiveness in research groups prior to launching (like all TAC campaigns are).

That research told us the messages would resonate with drivers and riders and encourage them to pull over for a break if they felt tired (not fall asleep, as Mr Frenkel suggested).

In addition, like all TAC campaigns, the fatigue messages are based on extensive road safety research and are developed with high level marketing experts to ensure they have maximum impact in changing the community’s behaviour.

For as long as research tells us that our campaigns are having an impact by saving lives and preventing crashes,  the TAC will continue investing in world-leading road safety and marketing activities. Statement by TAC Chief Executive Officer, Janet Dore

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