I was driving along a local street the other day when I noticed traffic signs stating that the speed limit had been reduced to 20mph. My immediate reaction was to wonder why. After all, we are not talking about a rat run, rather a busy suburban street where the traffic normally crawls along at a snail’s pace.
Legislators often seem to make the mistake of assuming that if they make something illegal then people will suddenly stop doing it. The evidence would seem to suggest otherwise. After all, cycling on the pavement is illegal and yet it is impossible to walk anywhere without having to get out of the path of these lycra louts.
If the lawmakers want to change our behaviour then surely communication and persuasion would be more effective than simply introducing laws which many people blatantly ignore.
Take the example of drink driving which is now regarded, quite rightly, as intolerable by the overwhelming majority of us. We disapprove of drink driving not because it’s illegal but because decades of public information campaigns have persuaded us that it’s unacceptable. There have been similar campaigns on issues such as domestic violence and video piracy.
A few years ago I co-ordinated the Make Stevenage Sparkle which had some success in persuading people to drop less litter, especially around fast food outlets. When smoking in the workplace became illegal in 2007 I devised an internal communications for the London Borough of Havering which explained to Council staff what the benefits of the changes would be.
These experiences have convinced me that communication can be more effective than enforcement when it comes to bringing about behaviour change.