MOST of Us® Wear Seatbelts Campaign: 2002-2003

The MOST of Us Wear Seatbelts Campaign was the first statewide campaign use of the social norms approach to increase seatbelt use. Designed to increase the number of 18- to 80-year-old Montanans who wear their seatbelts, the campaign generated statistically significant results after only one year with regard to several measures of the target population’s behaviors and perceptions.

The results of the initial Montana Adult Safety Belt Norms Survey showed that the majority of Montanans wear safety belts when driving or riding in a motor vehicle. Further, they revealed that misperceptions about this norm were pervasive. Most survey respondents misperceived the majority norm by underestimating the number of Montana adults who wear safety belts. Sample results include:

• 84.9% of the respondents reported that they wore safety belts the last time they drove a vehicle. However, they estimated that 54.0% (the mean estimate) of typical Montana adults wore safety belts the last time they drove.

• 85.3% of the respondents reported wearing a safety belt the last time they rode in a vehicle as a passenger. However, their perception was that only 43.5% of typical Montana adults wore a safety belt the last time they were a passenger in a motor vehicle.

• 86.6% of the respondents said that they made sure all of their passengers wore safety belts the last time they were driving a vehicle and carrying passengers. However, when asked to estimate the percentage of typical Montana adults who made sure that all of their passengers wore safety belts the last time they carried passengers, the mean estimate was 28.5%.

• While 96.1% of the respondents who had carried children four-years-old or younger said the child or children were in a child restraint safety the last time they drove with such a child, respondents estimated the percentage of typical Montana adults who made sure a four-year-old or younger child was in a child restraint was 67.6%.

After just one year of intensive social norms media, Montanans’ perceptions of the frequency of safety belt use increased significantly across all measures. As perceptions of safety belt use increased, so did reported safety belt use. In fact, increases in safety belt use were seen across a variety of measures, including the frequency with which respondents reported: 1) wearing a safety belt at least 90 percent of the time; 2) always wearing a safety belt as a passenger; and 3) always making passengers wear safety belts when driving. Increased accuracy of perceptions of safety belt use correlated with increases in self-reported safety belt use, clearly indicating that safety belt use is a viable topic for a social norms marketing campaign.

Improvements in reported safety belt usage also correlated with awareness of the social norms message. Those respondents who recalled the social norms message had the highest reported safety belt usage. In contrast, there was virtually no difference in safety belt use frequency between those who recalled non-social norms messages and those who recalled no safety belt media at all.

After this first successful campaign year, funding changes caused the levels of social norms safety belt media to plummet, while levels of non-normative safety belt media continued to increase. The result was that while awareness of general safety belt media continued to grow, awareness of social norms media dropped. As social norms media awareness dropped off, so too did the gains in reported safety belt usage that were seen after the campaign’s first year.

These self-reported data suggest that the positive changes seen over the first year of the campaign may be attributable to the social norm messages. In their absence, increases in reported safety belt usage ceased to be seen, even in the face of dramatically increasing levels of traditional safety belt media.

However, since one year of self-reported data is not enough to draw conclusions from, it will be the job of future researchers to evaluate and compare the efficacy of normative and non-normative messages. Nonetheless, these preliminary findings are an encouraging and compelling sign that the social norms approach has a strong applicability to occupant protection issues.

Sponsor: Montana Department of Transportation

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