How new research on millennials can inform future traffic safety efforts

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2016 TZD conference opening session

By 2025, three of four workers worldwide will be members of the millennial generation—those born between 1982 and 2002. Effectively reaching and influencing this vast audience with traffic safety messages will require some insight into this generation, said Rodney Wambeam, speaking at the TZD statewide conference last November. During the opening session, Wambeam, a senior research scientist at the Wyoming Survey and Analysis Center at the University of Wyoming, shared new research findings on millennials and how that could shape approaches to traffic safety and preventing substance abuse.

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Rodney Wambeam

In the U.S., millennials currently number about 80 million—a number that is growing because of immigration. “This really is a global generation,” Wambeam noted. And it’s the single most diverse generation of Americans.

Millennials such as Beyoncé and Mark Zuckerberg illustrate that not only are they no longer all teenagers, but they’re also an influential generation in the workforce that is changing the world.

Although they’re often described as “technologically savvy,” Wambeam said he’d call them “technologically dependent.” “They are digital natives who don’t know a world without e-mail,” he said. “They use technology at higher rates, and they’re better at using it. They on average send and/or receive 88 text messages a day.”

Politically, millennials are typically more optimistic, liberal, confident in the political process, and in favor of activist government, Wambeam said. They are much less connected to the institutions we have, such as religious institutions. And they are much more in favor of the legalization of marijuana in general, which could impact traffic safety. “For the longest time we didn’t really think of drugged driving the same way we think of driving under the influence of alcohol,” Wambeam said. States where the drug is legal are seeing increased interest in its impacts on driving. This could be an area where millennials wield influence as well.

Aside from more support for and use of marijuana, millennials behave better than the preceding generations in nearly every area of risky behavior. “This generation’s rebellion has been to behave better than their parents and grandparents did,” Wambeam said, pointing out that alcohol use, impaired driving, bullying, and violence in school are all down for this generation—“partly because we’ve been doing the prevention for them with measures such as [graduated driver licensing].”

Wambeam offered the following suggestions for traffic safety efforts that target millennials.

  1. Stay the course. “The stuff we’re doing is working. Things are getting better. We need to keep doing it. We’re not at zero deaths yet.”
  2. Really use technology. Citing an example of a smartphone app developed by a millennial for a 12-step recovery program, Wambeam said the way we’ve done technology in the past has not been as effective as it could be, and it’s constantly changing. “We need to use it better, because frankly we’re terrible at it.”
  3. Involve parents more. “These are young people who really look up to their parents. They see their parents as mentors,” he said. “We need to leverage that.”
  4. Take advantage of teamwork. “This is a generation of young people who collaborate to a fault…Millennials get most of their work done in a coffee shop. If we can leverage that need for teamwork we might be able to do something good.”
  5. Tie services to the social good. “Millennials volunteer at higher rates than past generations. They really care about the social good,” Wambeam said. “If we’re somehow able to tie what we do to the social good it could have positive impacts as well.”

Regarding the workforce, this is a generation that will keep adapting and switching. Job-hopping isn’t seen as negative for them. “Friends and family are their new priorities. They put lifestyle above career,” Wambeam said. “It’s the first generation to say it’s more important to make the world a better place than to make money.”

Wambeam closed by encouraging boomers and Xers to embrace some aspects of millennial workplace culture. “It’s really great—it’s collaborative, it’s flexible, it’s work that is important—it’s good for all of us,” he said.

Posted in Events, Safety

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