In an interesting story National Public Radio (NPR) reported on yesterday, a recent study shows that drivers will slow down if they’re given monetary incentives. The June 21, 2012 story that appeared on NPR’s website explains that with roughly 12,000 Americans dying every year in traffic collisions as a result of speeding, officials have employed many efforts to get drivers to reduce their speed. The latest strategy that researchers have come up with—a GPS device placed inside the vehicle that gives drivers incentives for not speeding—might actually result in changed driving behavior.

Speeding Car-140mph
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some of the past strategies that have not resulted in drivers slowing down, the NPR story shows, including flashing signs that tell drivers how fast they’re going; cops issuing tickets; and hidden speeding cameras. The latest strategy puts the traffic monitor right in a motorist’s car. According to findings from an experiment that was partly funded by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), NPR reports, researchers found that drivers will slow down if they’re given a monetary incentive. In the experiment, a small GPS device installed in a vehicle continually measured the speed of a car and compared it to the posted speed limit. The researchers found that drivers reduced their speeding behavior dramatically when they had the promise of a $25 prize at the end of each week of safe driving during the study, NPR reports.

There was a stipulation to the dollars-for-driving-slow incentive: Every time drivers in the study traveled five to eight miles per hour over the speed limit, they lost 3 cents from the prize. If they went nine or more miles per hour over the speed limit, they lost 6 cents. One of the researchers at NHTSA told NPR that they found the incentive program was incredibly effective in getting drivers to curtail their speeding. Egregious violations—those nine or more miles per hour over the speed limit, Ian Reagan said, were almost eliminated. Reagan said he thinks the change in driver behavior came down to the carrot-and-stick approaches: on the one hand, drivers received a prize at the end of the week for good driving, and on the other hand, they received small penalties for speeding.

NPR’s story says that psychological studies have shown that people are very aware of small, accumulating losses, but another aspect in the drivers’ changed behavior may also be involved. Reagan said that for some drivers, “beating the game” presented a challenge that was itself an incentive to slow down. One of the drivers in the study, he says, made a game out of it. The driver wanted to see if they could keep the incentive amount of $25, he said to NPR.

One day, insurance companies could offer these tracking devices to drivers who want to lower their premiums, Reagan thinks. Many drivers are already aware that insurance companies will give rebates for good driving. Reagan thinks the devices used in the study could give drivers feedback in real time, and let them know, after every trip, how much it cost them if they were speeding.

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