Laughter helps drive home the safety message.

Councils are using humour to raise awareness of road safety issues among children and parents. They are handing out booklets, by creative agency Serious Comedy, which feature amusing scenarios to shed light on dangerous parking and driving as well as offering children advice on how to cycle safely to school.

One of the guides – ‘Should You Sack Your Chauffeur?’ – shows parents committing offences such as using a mobile phone while driving, to the chagrin and dismay of their child passengers. 

Another, entitled ‘Why Animals Can’t Ride Bikes’, has a procession of ‘calamitous creatures’ committing a series of cycling errors.

The illustrated booklets are being used by councils across the UK including Peterborough, Hampshire, East Ayrshire, Dudley, Thurrock, Southend on Sea, Cambridgeshire and the London boroughs of Croydon, Lewisham, Harrow, Camden, Enfield, Haringey and Islington.

Jeffrey Sarpong, Harrow’s senior road safety officer, says: “Humour is an effective way of influencing behaviour, especially for children. The humorous elements of the booklets make them memorable and help with interaction and keeping them engaged on the road safety message.”

Harrow council offer the booklets to every pupil in selected year groups, says Sarpong. “So, for example, all our Year 4 pupils will receive a copy of ‘Should You Sack Your Chauffeur?’ as the language and terminology is appropriate for that age group.

“Each school operates differently – some schools use them as part of a class discussion or incorporate as part of a ‘road safety/school travel’ themed activity. Others simply hand them out to pupils to take home.”

Sarpong believes that the booklets help reinforce key road safety messages to pupils. “Schools have submitted positive reviews of the booklets and have used them in initiatives such as road safety and school travel campaigns.”

This is echoed by Susan Martin, Croydon’s senior road safety officer. “Teacher feedback has been positive in respect of the style and the content of the different booklets,” she says. “As this is a relatively new project we are in early stages of gauging depth of behaviour change. The booklets all fit in with our other areas of work within road safety education such as Bikeability, sustainable travel, transitional package and scoot safe.”

‘Should You Sack Your Chauffeur?’ has been given to all Year 3 pupils in the borough and, in some cases, also to Year 4 children “due to increasingly dangerous driver behaviour on school runs and parking at schools”, says Martin.

Both Harrow and Croydon say that funding for the booklets came from Transport for London’s Local Implementation Plan (LIP).

Darren Ruddell, creative director at Serious Comedy, says: “Humour breaks down walls and disarms resistance. If you can make someone laugh, or even smile, you’ve got them on your side and they’re more open to taking your message on board.”

There is also the “evangelising effect”, he says. “If something makes you laugh you want to share it. That’s the holy grail for a lot of advertising agencies; to make something for a brand that people want to share. Kids in particular get bored of being told what to do, or even worse what not to do, and straight away the barrier goes up. But the content we produce is couched in terms they associate with fun and enjoyment. They want to read it and show it to their friends.”

Ruddell believes that “shock and horror” tactics are no longer seen as an effective way of conveying the road safety message.  

“We’ve been fortunate to find a number of forward thinking individuals within the road safety sector who are receptive to our methods. They realise we need to engage with our audience on another level. Those who’ve seen the success we’ve had with the road safety booklets now want to use the same approach in other fields.”

He adds: “In the main our booklets are given to each child in a specific year. We would love every child to be able to take a booklet home but understand that budgets might not always permit that, so they work as standalone booklets, which the children will love to read or in conjunction with lesson plans in the classroom.  

“To make it possible for everyone to have a booklet which they can keep we’re now looking to run a collective purchase scheme allowing boroughs to purchase 5,000 booklets at a greatly reduced price.”  

Serious Comedy is developing techniques to help generate feedback from readers to the booklets. An online feedback form is included at the back of ‘Should You Sack Your Chauffeur?’ “This enabled enabled the children testing their parents to input the test results,” says Ruddell. “This creates an analytic we send back to the councils showing the parental driving behaviours. To date, of the parents tested, 100% said that the test made them consider the way they drive. 

“This a direct and quantifiable effect of the interaction prompted by the booklet, without the need for the council to deliver any kind of finger-wagging lecture to the parents. In the future we hope to develop the booklet into an App that will allows children to email their parents a funny dismissal letter and at the same time gather data.”

Christopher Macgowan

@chrismacgowan

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