How ABA Got Drivers To Hang Up And Buckle Up

By Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D

Founding Editor,

A study by Michael Clayton, Bridgett Helms, and Cathy Simpson in the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis demonstrated the successful application of Applied Behavior Analysis toward driver safety.  In short, the researchers found a clever way to get drivers to hang up and buckle up.

Here’s what they did:

The team focused their attention on a busy four-way intersection at a university.  One graduate student team member delivered the intervention and two other students sat at a distance to record driver behavior.

The intervention targeted two separate driver behaviors at two different times in a staggered fashion, known as a “multiple baseline” design.  The team first sought to reduce drivers’ cell phone use.  In this condition, the graduate student held up a sign near the exit of a busy parking garage that said “Hang Up — I Care” with a “Thank You” on the reverse side.  When the team targeted an increase in seat belt use, the sign read “Please Buckle Up — I Care” with a “Thank You” on the reverse side.  Each intervention was approximately 6-7 weeks in duration, while the entire study ran for two years.

The results indicated that, during the initial baseline session, before any intervention was introduced, approximately 44% of drivers were buckled in their seat belt, while only 6% were on their phones.  Interestingly, the team found that once the first intervention began, only targeting cell phone use, not only did drivers hang up their phones, but they started buckling up as well (an average of 56%) — without being prompted to do so.  When the prompts were switched to target seat belt use, hang ups went away, while seat belt use increased to an average of 78%.

Similar results were found when both conditions were replicated one year later.

Such a simple use of ABA technology to change behavior that contributes to thousands of traffic deaths per year in the U.S. alone…  Though difficult to determine, one can’t help but wonder if any lives were saved by the researchers in this study.

Be sure to check out the full article for more details and limitations, and let us know your thoughts in the comments below!  Also be sure to subscribe to bSci21 via email to receive the latest articles directly to your inbox.


1 Comment on "How ABA Got Drivers To Hang Up And Buckle Up"

  1. Michael Stalter | August 6, 2017 at 6:25 pm | Reply

    We sure could use any influence in Detroit to reduce cell phone usage while driving as well as buckling up seat belts. We have laws here against both, which are ignored and not enforced. I applaud the effort to find ways to help affect a change in this.

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