A Bumper Sticker That Saves Lives

I went to an interesting talk yesterday by a University of Chicago law professor named Lior Strahilevitz. Lior has a radical proposal about the “How’s My Driving?” stickers that we often see affixed to the back bumpers of trucks.

There is some initial evidence that these placards are “associated with fleet accident reductions ranging from 20 percent to 53 percent.” The idea is that truck drivers who know that they might be reported for driving dangerously are less likely to violate the rules of the road.

If the bumper sticker can help truck drivers, maybe it can help the rest of us too. Lior has proposed “‘How’s My Driving?’ for Everyone (And Everything?)” — a system whereby the government requires all cars to carry such stickers.

Lior’s big idea is to supplement police surveillance with a system of coveillance (where citizens watch each other). The use of “How’s My Driving?” stickers can harness the value of “millions of daily stranger-on-stranger driving observations that presently go to waste.”

In the past, Barry Nalebuff and I have extolled the idea of “black boxes” for cars that would record the car’s speed and whether a seat belt was being used — data that could be downloaded later in the event of an accident. These black boxes are also used in truck fleets and have been shown to reduce accidents — again because drivers drive safer when they know that the black box will later rat them out to their employers.

Road Safety has a black box that parents can use to make sure that their teenagers are driving more safely. This is no joking matter. I have a niece who rolled a car a few years ago and wasn’t wearing a seat belt. Luckily, she walked away without grievous injury, but she probably would have been wearing a safety belt if she knew that a Road Safety box was going to tell on her.

I’m still a fan of Road Safety. But Lior has me thinking that a bumper sticker might get you many of the same benefits at a fraction of the cost. And God bless America: there are now “How’s My Driving?” stickers for teenagers. Check out tell-my-mom.com (howsmydriving.com has a special program for senior drivers as well).

Bumper stickers might also keep your car from getting stolen. The Feds help support a Help End Auto Theft (H.E.A.T) program. You put a special bumper sticker on your car that gives the police advance permission to pull you over if they see your car being driven between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. It’s popular for oldsters (like me) who rarely drive during the wee morning hours.

But Lior’s paper makes me think that the H.E.A.T. program could be even better if the sticker instructed other drivers to call an 800 number if they see this car on the road at inappropriate times.

Of course there are obvious problems concerning both accuracy and privacy when living in a coveillance world. My kids want me to display a “How’s My Parenting?” sticker so that they can call child services on me when I screw up.


On long road trips or when stuck in city traffic I would just report false violations on every car I had time to do so. Naturally I'd do my best to hide the sticker on my car or alter it so I never get reported. And if I cut you off, don't be going 10mph under the limit in the left lane!!


One thing nobody seems to have addressed in this is the issue of reporter anonymity. I have never reported anybody on one of those "how's my driving" tip lines, but I imagine that companies screen for crank, malicious or mistaken calls by, among other things, requiring contact information from the caller. They can do that because they're private companies and are under no obligation to disclose anything to the driver - he is an employee and can be disciplined or fired according to company policy.

When you extend this to the general public and to law enforcement, though, you run into Sixth Amendment issues. An accused, even of a traffic offense, has a right to confront his accuser and cross-examine the witnesses against him.

Law enforcement and social service agencies accept anonymous tips as a pointer only and then do their own independent investigation - and even then they get a lot of mistaken reports, cranks, and revenge-seekers. This would not really be feasible for traffic violations. Think about it - contact the reporter, secure a statement, require their testimony in court in several weeks - there go your cost savings and then some. If the driver fights the ticket, the reporter(s) would have to make their identities known and testify in court. That would screen out the cranks, sure, but how many people would want the disruption just because somebody cut them off six weeks ago?



If you don't defend your Constitution (al Rights)... it won't defend you.
I only chose to read these comments to see how far I would have to read before seeing the book "1984" (by Geo. ORWELL) cited.
Here is number 9.
> September 17th, 2008 2:32 pm
> Hasn't anybody ever read 1984? Do you really
> want your whereabouts known to authorities all
> the time? How easy would it be for someone to
> seek revenge regarding personal matters by
> making up some reckless driving story?

> - Posted by Mike


An alternative to this would be tie in to a driver's horn. I assume that most people honk when someone does something unsafe, illegal, or otherwise stupid, and I assume that there's those people out there that get honked at more than others. Seems like it would be fairly easy to make a contraption then that when the horn is honked that it then triggers cars around it to send a signal identifying the car, the location, and then keeping that in the cars' records (both the honked and honkee).

With this method, it would be possible to find out those drivers out there that have a disproportionate amount of honks being directed around them. It would also allow for the ability to see who out there is honking the most and make corrective action that way.

One could see this helping out in instances where an elderly person always goes 45 in the fast lane. Or when someone always blows through a stop sign at a certain intersection. Or when someone always cuts across four lanes just to make it to their exit. Or even stopping people from honking just because they're backed up in traffic and frustrated.

This information could easily be sent to some database center and algorithms could be run over time to figure out who the worst drivers out there were.

It could also help in making the way our streets are set up to be safer by showing over time where, for instance, more people are honked at and figuring out ways to change that.

Bike riders and pedestrians could have them as well , thereby showing over time drivers, for instance, that don't stop for pedestrians or share the road with bikers.

It would be self-governance with the knowledge that the worst offenders would be dealt with, either by re-education or being taken off the road.



As mentioned above the bumper sticker system has been used in Israel now for the past couple of years on all company cars. Drivers who break the laws are penalized by their employees (note: company cars are much more common in Europe and Israel than they are in the US). In London, there are traffic strips on the road that react to speeding by activating a camera to photograph your car registration plate. All these systems are recorded to have moderate success, but I can't imagine the American public allowing them.

Insurance Guy

Quote: If everyone were required to have a "how's my driving" bumper sticker, wouldn't that decrease its effectiveness? I would think that since you'd see it on every car, it would no longer register quite as strongly (or at all, perhaps).

Remember, it's not the sticker that motivates people to call in a report -- it's the driver behavior. The sticker merely channels the caller to the call center that processes the report.

Presently, drivers who drive well and have a sticker don't get calls (they are "invisible" due to their behavior conforming to norms). In fact, 80% of all drivers within a company fleet NEVER get a complaint report. 10% get one complaint during their tenure with that company (and never get another). 10% get MULTIPLE complaints for the same types of behavior over and over again. Yet, the common factor is that each vehicle has the same size, type, color sticker -- certain drivers don't have stickers that say "CALL ON ME AND NO ONE ELSE"

Drive well - you're invisible. Drive crazy and the world will call in a report.

Ever see a crazy driving manuever, but there was no phone number, no sticker, no company name (easily seen)? How could you forward a complaint without doing tons of research (ie. looking up a DOT carrier number, following the truck to its terminal, etc.) Sticker blindness just doesn't exist because "behavior blindness" doesn't exist.



Few families rarely have more than 2 cars, but often 2, 3, or even more drivers. It leaves an air of ambiguity about who was driving at the time of the call to the bumper sticker number.

The best deterrent was, is, and always will be stiffer penalties for infractions.

$150 for failure to wear a seat belt
$250 for speeding (graduated upward from there for higher speeds)
$200 for other moving violations
Triple whatever the current DUI fee is

Make it so painful to not obey the rules of the road that we all become safer drivers.


America is screwed up: Ever less control in the business world (hence the current mess), ever more control in people's lives (patriot act, bad ideas like those ones).

When will people realize improvement is the otehr way around?


If everyone were required to have a "how's my driving" bumper sticker, wouldn't that decrease its effectiveness? I would think that since you'd see it on every car, it would no longer register quite as strongly (or at all, perhaps).


We already have the ability to call and complain about drivers in commercial trucks as many of them have their name and number right on the door or back of the truck.
It doesn't seem to do much to encourage good driving by these guys.

This discussion has also gone two directions, enforcement (police) and encouragement (employer etc). These are very different issues. While, I'm not in favor of a nanny state, were I employing people with my name on the vehicle, I'd want to know if they're not being responsible in my vehicles.


Sticking a telephone number on the car would just increase the number of crank calls - an inconvenience which might cancel out the benefit of the better driving it encourages.

How about having an "online complaint portal" where people can upload license plate numbers of offenders, along with the pertinent complaint?

People with relatively many repeat complaints could be worth investigating. If the details of this scheme were disclosed to the public, then people would have a disincentive from driving rashly.


There is a program sponsored by the USDoT that is working on such a blackbox http://www.its.dot.gov/vii/


"Jessica, yes it is because the sticker acts as a visible prompt. "

It won't work long, as is evident to anyone familiar with GUI design. If you see something everywhere, you become blind to it. That's why, for example, there is a countdown before you can click "ok" to install an extension on Firefox: because users would install anything if there wasn't this stratagem.


FYI, you can download a recording of Lior's talk from UChicago Law's Faculty Blog at:
http://uchicagolaw.typepad.com/faculty/2007/01/strahilevitz_ho.html or find the podcast on iTunes here: http://phobos.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewPodcast?id=263294054


This only works for truck drivers because they can be fired. If someone can call on a normal driver, what is the consequence unless someone is willing to pursue this through the courts? The police cannot just issue a ticket on your say so and expect it to be unchallenged. But, a truck driver who gets a number of calls will likely be fired (if a number of callers, it shows a pattern and not just one nut job trying to cause trouble).

David Scherer

Many modern cars including the the Cadillac XLR and Chevrolet Corvette have an "event data recorder". This is used to help insurance policy's get out of paying for wrecks and car companies know if you blew the engine when you bring it in for warranty work. Example: http://www.usnews.com/usnews/biztech/articles/030714/14box.htm


Years ago I saw some comedian who as part of his routine had a bow and arrow where the arrows had suction cups. He said that if you're driving and someone cuts you off, you shoot the arrow at them. Then if the cops see a car with several arrows on it, they pull him over and give him a ticket for being an idiot.

Erik Hovland

C'mon people, DriveCam.

Seriously, having this kind of information in the recent MetroLink crash in Chatsworth CA would be invaluable right now. Let alone the fact that you can put this in every car. Close enough to the black box idea for me.

Michael from Iowa

My concern is that when Drive A sees Driver B driving poorly, Driver A could be sufficiently distracted to cause a collision while attempting to report Driver B. The danger of cellphone use by drivers has been suffucuently well documented to satisfy me.


I don't think the black box should be limited to teens. How about reduced insurance rates if you agree to install a black box on your own car and to make its data available to the insurance company if you're in an accident. That way you would be putting something in the teen's car that you already have in yours and can say it's to make their insurance affordable.