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Empowering Traffic Safety: The Art of Guiding With Questions & How to use AI to Make Your Job Easier

In the realm of traffic safety, effective communication can be the difference between life and death. As professionals in the traffic safety industry, we understand the importance of promoting safe behaviors among drivers, pedestrians, and all road users. However, an often-overlooked aspect of this communication process is the potential for psychological reactance – that inherent human resistance to being told what to do. To engage with our audience and foster a proactive approach to safety, we must embrace a strategy of guiding people through the use of questions rather than dictating commands. This article delves into the significance of this approach and provides practical examples of how we can enhance communication while avoiding psychological reactance.


Quick Side Note: Please check out the Center for Health and Safety Culture's research on Traffic Safety Messages and Psychological Reactance. They are the leaders in brinig this to the forefront. Most recently, I was presenting on this topic at the Montana Substance Abuse Prevention Academy. At the conclusion of my presentation, I was greeted by Dr. Kari Finley who stated, "I was the lead researcher on the psychological reactance study." Kari is with the Center for Health and Safety Culture."

Imagine that...I'm presenting on someone elses research and they happen to be in the room. They had no idea I was going to be talking about it and I had no idea they were going to be there. WOW, what an honor.


A long haired bearded guy holding a cardboard sign on a street corner.  The sign says "Get Off The Phone and Drive."  He's standing on the corner asking for money from cars.  Photoshoped next to him are 4 traffic warning signs that say the following:  Slow Down, Speed Kills.  Don't Drink and Drive.  Buckle Up. and Don't Drvie High.

Understanding Psychological Reactance

Psychological reactance is a natural response when individuals perceive their freedom or autonomy to be threatened. When people feel coerced or ordered to do something, they tend to rebel against it, even if the action is in their best interest. In the context of traffic safety, this can manifest in resistance to following rules, disregarding safety precautions, or even adopting risky behaviors out of defiance.

Guiding Through Questions: A Fresh Perspective

To navigate the delicate balance between promoting safety and triggering psychological reactance, we can turn to the power of questions. By asking thought-provoking questions, we empower individuals to consider their choices and make informed decisions. This approach respects their autonomy while providing them with the information they need to choose safer behaviors.

Examples of Messages and Their Question-Based Alternatives

1.Message with Reactance Potential: "Slow down and obey the speed limit."

Question-Based Alternative: "What are the benefits of driving within the speed limit and ensuring your safety as well as that of others?"

By framing the message as a question, we encourage drivers to reflect on the advantages of responsible speed management, fostering a sense of responsibility rather than imposing a demand.

2. Message with Reactance Potential: "Put your phone away while driving."

Question-Based Alternative: "How can staying focused on the road and avoiding distractions like texting contribute to safer driving?"

This question-based approach prompts individuals to consider the impact of their actions on their safety and encourages them to take personal responsibility.

3. Message with Reactance Potential: "Always use your turn signals."

Question-Based Alternative: "Why is it important to signal your intentions using turn signals, ensuring smoother traffic flow and reducing the risk of accidents?"

By asking why signaling is important, we engage drivers in critical thinking and emphasize the broader benefits of the behavior.

Benefits of the Question-Based Approach

  1. Engagement: Questions naturally engage the audience's cognitive processes, prompting them to think deeply about the subject matter.

  2. Autonomy: By presenting information in the form of questions, individuals feel more in control of their choices, reducing the likelihood of reactance.

  3. Reflective Thinking: Questions encourage reflective thinking, allowing individuals to connect safety behaviors to their personal values and motivations.

  4. Informed Decisions: A question-based approach equips individuals with the information they need to make informed decisions about their safety.

Creating Effective Question-Based Messages

  1. Highlight Benefits: Focus on the positive outcomes of safe behaviors to inspire a desire to choose them.

  2. Appeal to Values: Craft questions that appeal to individuals' values, aligning safety with what matters most to them.

  3. Promote Empathy: Encourage empathy by asking how their actions can impact others on the road, fostering a sense of community responsibility.

Still need help?

I highly recommend giving Artificial Intellegence (AI) a try. From ChatGPT, Google's Bard, to Anthropic's Claude 2. These are some of the cutting edge tools I believe we all need to become experts in. They can help us turn "telling" statements that cause psychological reactance into empowering questions. Oh, and they can do it in seconds. Here's a couple examples that might just blow your mind.

I went into ChatGPT for this one and I asked or prompted the following:

In an attempt to limit or avoid Psychological reactance when it comes to traffic safety messages, can you provide a list of 15 possible traffic safety messages.

It produced this:

Certainly, here's a list of 15 traffic safety messages that aim to minimize psychological reactance and effectively communicate important safety information:

  1. Stay in Control: Maintain control of your vehicle to protect yourself and others on the road.

  2. Arrive Safely: Make every journey a safe one by following traffic rules and driving responsibly.

  3. Buckle Up for Safety: Seat belts save lives. Remember to wear yours and ensure all passengers do the same.

  4. Share the Road: Respect other road users, including pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists.

  5. Avoid Distractions: Keep your attention on the road, and avoid distractions like texting or using your phone while driving.

  6. Stay Sober: Never drink and drive. Stay sober to ensure the safety of everyone on the road.

  7. Obey Speed Limits: Adhere to speed limits to prevent accidents and reach your destination safely.

  8. Use Turn Signals: Indicate your intentions by using your turn signals, allowing others to anticipate your actions.

  9. Maintain a Safe Following Distance: Keep a safe distance from the vehicle in front of you to avoid collisions.

  10. Check Your Blind Spots: Always check blind spots before changing lanes to prevent accidents.

  11. Adapt to Weather Conditions: Slow down and adjust your driving to suit weather conditions, such as rain, fog, or snow.

  12. Pedestrian Safety: Yield to pedestrians at crosswalks and intersections, ensuring their safety.

  13. Child Safety: Properly secure children in age-appropriate car seats and ensure they are always buckled up.

  14. Avoid Aggressive Driving: Stay patient and avoid aggressive behaviors like tailgating or road rage.

  15. Regular Vehicle Maintenance: Ensure your vehicle is in good condition with regular maintenance to prevent breakdowns on the road.

When crafting traffic safety messages to minimize reactance, it's important to use positive and empowering language that respects individuals' autonomy. Messages should focus on the benefits of safe behavior and appeal to individuals' sense of responsibility for their own well-being and the well-being of others on the road. Avoid overly authoritarian or commanding language that could trigger a negative response.

If you notice each and every one of the 15 items are still "Telling" aren't they? ? So now what? Here's the next key prompt that changes the game:

ChatGPT Prompt: "Rephrase those in the form of a question."

Certainly, here's the list of traffic safety messages rephrased as questions:

  1. Q1: How can you ensure the safety of yourself and others on the road by maintaining control of your vehicle?

  2. Q2: What can you do to make each of your journeys a safe one, while adhering to traffic rules and responsible driving?

  3. Q3: Why is it crucial to buckle up for safety and ensure that all passengers do the same?

  4. Q4: How can you show respect to pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists by sharing the road with them?

  5. Q5: What's the best way to keep your focus on the road and avoid distractions like texting while driving?

  6. Q6: Why should you never drink and drive, ensuring you're sober to prioritize road safety?

  7. Q7: How can you prevent accidents and reach your destination safely by obeying speed limits?

  8. Q8: Why is it important to use your turn signals to communicate your intentions to other drivers on the road?

  9. Q9: How can maintaining a safe distance from the vehicle in front of you help prevent collisions?

  10. Q10: What's a crucial step before changing lanes to ensure your safety and the safety of others?

  11. Q11: How should you adjust your driving in response to weather conditions like rain, fog, or snow?

  12. Q12: What should you do to prioritize pedestrian safety, especially at crosswalks and intersections?

  13. Q13: How can you ensure child safety while driving, including securing them in proper car seats?

  14. Q14: What's the best way to maintain a patient and calm demeanor while driving, avoiding aggressive behaviors?

  15. Q15: How can regular vehicle maintenance contribute to preventing breakdowns and ensuring safe travels?


In the dynamic landscape of traffic safety, effective communication is pivotal. As professionals in the industry, we can proactively mitigate psychological reactance by embracing a question-based approach. By guiding individuals through thoughtful inquiries, we empower them to make informed choices that prioritize safety. Let us harness the power of questions to bridge the gap between safety awareness and genuine behavior change, creating a safer environment for all road users.

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