An example of fun solutions to social problems: speed camera lottery

There are lots of social problems where it is hard to motivate individuals to support efforts to battle the problems or to change their individual behavior. But what if individuals could have a chance to benefit from the measures beyond simply the abstract “you’re helping society”? Some thinkers developed a lottery that might improve people’s views of speed cameras and reduced the number of speeding people on the road:

“Can we get more people to obey the speed limit by making it fun to do?” That’s a question Volkswagen recently posed in a public contest — and the winning entry was the Speed Camera Lottery, conceived by Kevin Richardson of San Francisco. Richardson’s idea, quite simply, is to build a better speed trap. Strategically placed traffic cameras will photograph all passing cars. Drivers exceeding the speed limit are sent tickets, while those obeying it are pooled into a lottery funded by the fines. Every now and then a randomly selected winner is sent a check.

The speed-limit contest was part of the Fun Theory, a program designed by Swedish advertising firm DDB Stockholm to make “seemingly baleful social challenges — environmental protection, speed-limit adherence, boosting public transportation ridership — enjoyable,” according to the Wheels blog of the New York Times. Other transportation-related innovations included the Wiki Traffic Light, which tries to get people to stop on red by fixing a screen that displays interesting facts, and the Piano Stairs, which nudges subway riders off escalators and onto the stairs by converting the steps into piano keys — ala the “Heart and Soul” scene from “Big.”

A demo of the Speed Camera Lottery enacted in Stockholm seems to have been a success. In collaboration with the Swedish National Society for Road Safety, Volkswagen installed a speed camera that showed drivers their speed. Over a three-day period the camera snapped shots of 24,857 cars. The average speed before the test was 32 kilometers an hour. During the test that figure dropped to 25 k.p.h. — a 22 percent reduction in speed.

My first thought upon reading this was that it is a clever way to deal with the issue of speeding. But, this could get complicated quickly. Where exactly is the trade-off point where people need to see that enough drivers who obey the law are benefiting versus the number of people who are receiving tickets? Such cameras have been particularly detested in the United Kingdom and the United States – would a program like this be enough to overcome these attitudes? More broadly, should people be rewarded for following laws or guidelines?

In general, we need more creative thinking like this. People generally don’t like to be told what to do, particularly if they feel that they are being scolded or that the state is just out to get them (or raise revenue). But if people can be convinced that they could tangibly benefit from following the law or fighting a particular social problem, perhaps more people would jump on board.

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