Psychology tells us that humans will do more to avoid pain than to gain pleasure. Usually, that’s true. But sometimes the sticks and carrots need a rethink. That’s what Volkswagen proved in 2010, when they tried a different approach to road safety. One of the winning ideas in Fun Theory Contest, their crowd-sourced competition, was by Kevin Richardson, a senior games producer for NickelodeonKids and Family Game. A father of three girls who had witnessed two car accidents involving children on bicycles, he was keen to promote safer driving. His “Speed Camera Lottery” rewarded drivers for good behavior, instead of sticking with the old system of only punishing the bad.
The idea was simple: Put a speed monitor on a busy highway. But instead of just ticketing the fastest drivers, the monitor would also capture an image of the license plates of the drivers who obeyed the speed limit, and enter them into a lottery. The winner of the lottery would get a cash prize. Paid for with some of the money collected from the speeding drivers who got ticketed. The Speed Camera Lottery didn’t restrict choice — you could still drive as fast as you wanted to — but it made the better and safer option way more attractive. The Swedish National Society for Road Safety liked the idea, too. So much so that they worked with Kevin to experiment with the concept in Stockholm in November 2010. During the trial, 24,857 cars passed the cameras. The average speed dropped from 32 km/h to 25 km/h — which is exactly the speed limit of Stockholm’s main roads.
So next time you’re trying to change bad behaviours, ask: should you rethink your sticks and carrots?