A History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46

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In July 1945 the Social Survey made an inquiry for the Ministry of War Transport into the public’s attitude towards road accidents and the Highway Code.

A sample of the adult civilian population of Great Britain was interviewed. The questions asked were designed to discover how seriously the public took the problem of road danger and what was known of the Highway Code. At the same time, and as part of the same inquiry, observations of the behaviour of people crossing roads were made all over the country.

A second inquiry was made for the Ministry of Transport in January 1946. By this time the Road Safety publicity campaign had begun and the main object of the inquiry was to find out what proportion of the population had been reached by the advertisements that had been shown in newspapers and magazines. Some other questions concerned with the more general aspect of attitudes towards road dangers were also asked.

In March 1946 the Survey made an inquiry for the Campaigns Division of the Central Office of Information mainly to find out what proportion of the population had seen the Road Safety film, “It might have been you”. Some questions on other publicity and on attitudes were also included.

The final inquiry on the subject of road safety was carried out in May 1946 and was made, like the first two, for the Ministry of Transport. Some of the questions about newspaper publicity asked in the inquiry made in January were repeated. By this time more advertisements had appeared in the press, including the first six of a new series, and one of the objects of the inquiry was to compare the effect of the new advertisements with that of the old ones. Other questions about publicity were also asked and questions about attitudes towards road safety. In May observations of people crossing roads were made again so that the results could be compared with those of July 1945.

It will be noted that the four inquiries did not all deal with the same aspect of the subject. However they were designed as far as possible so that comparisons over time could be made. Some questions were included in two or more inquiries. This report

deals mainly with the results of the last inquiry made, that of May 1946.

However, where a comparison with the results of earlier surveys is possible this has been made.

In this series of inquiries no attempt was made to measure the results of the whole Road Safety campaign since, by the request of the Ministry of Transport, attention has been concentrated for the main part on measuring the extent to which the publicity has been noticed and not its effect on behaviour on the roads. A complete study of the Road Safety campaign would need to investigate the behaviour of different types of road users, to find out whether there were any changes in this, and, if so, in what ways they were related to the impact of publicity and other measures taken in the course of the campaign. A small start was made to tackle this larger problem with the observations of behaviour on roads, but it was not found possible to make this a major part of the investigation.

Furthermore, whilst a great deal of attention has been given to newspaper publicity, very little work has been done on reactions to posters, and none at all on the results of the work done by local authorities or national organisations which was an essential part of the campaign.

Section II of this report deals with the public’s awareness of the Road Safety campaign in a general way. In Section III reactions to the advertisements placed in newspapers and magazines are described in more detail. In the subsequent sections other aspects of the problem are dealt with including general attitudes towards the subject of road accidents and the results of the observations that were made.

The questionnaire used in the last inquiry (May 1946) is given in Appendix(1). Appendix (2) gives details of the samples, and in a third appendix the results are given of an experiment in which people were shown photostat copies of full pages of news-

papers on which road safety advertisements appeared among others.

The results of some opinion questions on the way the government is dealing with the problem, asked in the January inquiry, are given in Appendix (4).

A short summary of the findings of these inquiries and the conclusions reached is given below.



The proportions answering “Yes” to an open question “Have you noticed any or advertisements about road dangers in the last few months?” were 74%, 79% and 79% in the inquiries made in January, March and May 1946 respectively.

A more specific question “Have you seen any advertisements about road dangers in newspapers or magazines?” showed that 71%, 77% and 82% could remember seeing such advertisements at the three periods respectively.

When Photostat copies of the advertisements were shown to informants in May 1946 91% remembered seeing one or more of them.

In the May inquiry informants were also asked whether they had seen posters, and 71% said they had seen them.

Thus a large section of the population is aware of the Road Safety Campaign.

It was found that somewhat lower proportions of older than of young and middle aged people, of the lower income groups than of the higher, and of women than of men had noticed publicity.

In the March inquiry it was found that 9% of the population had seen the road safety film “It might have been you”. At that time the film was still being shown and not everyone had had the opportunity of seeing it. The film was seen by a higher proportion of women than of men and by as high a proportion of the lower as of the higher income groups.

The results of another question showed that radio publicity had reached equal proportions in different groups.

It seems from these results that the cinema and the radio would be effective in bringing the problem to the notice of those groups that are less aware than other of press and poster publicity.

Only 41% of those who had seen publicity were able to repeat the slogan “Keep death off the road” when asked what the slogan was in May 1946. There was some increase in the proportion remembering the slogan in May as compared with January.


Newspapers Advertisements .

The first few advertisements to appear were remembered by higher proportions of people than were subsequent ones,

and the first advertisement of the new series was remembered by a higher proportion than the last advertisements of the old series. The proportions remembering individual advertisements in January, when only nine had appeared, were higher than the proportions remembering them in May when twenty-two had appeared.

In the January inquiry it was found that 57% of those interviewed had seen four or more of the nine advertisements that had appeared. In May 51% had seen six or more of the twenty-two that had appeared and 22% had seen ten or more.

It seems likely that the greater the number of advertisements the less chance individual advertisements have of being remembered, and that novelty is of some importance in drawing people’s attention to them. If newspaper advertisements are to continue more might be achieved by changing the style of the advertisements frequently than by showing a long series of advertisements all of the same type.

Informants were asked which of the two series of advertisements they thought better for calling people’s attention to road dangers. The question was asked when they had been shown copies of all twenty-two advertisements. 49% thought the first series was better and 34% thought the second series was better. The rest either thought them equally effective or had no opinion.

Attitudes to Road Safety

The proportion of people thinking the problem of road danger “very serious” was 56% in July 1945 before the publicity campaign had begun, and 65% in May 1946.

Those who had seen publicity were asked whether they thought the publicity was making them more careful on the roads. The proportions of those who had seen publicity saying that it had made them more careful were 43% and 51% in January, March and May 1946 respectively.

Those that had seen publicity in May had seen more publicity than those who had seen some in January.

It seems therefore that the cumulative effect of publicity has been to make people more careful, or at any rate to make them think they are being or ought to be more careful.

About 40% of those who had seen publicity however said that they always had been careful. Others said the publicity had had no effect on them.

A question asked of parents showed that considerably more of them knew about Kerb Drill and taught it to their children in May than in January.

It seems clear that the public is taking the problem of road danger more seriously than before and that more people are aware of the need to be careful on the roads.


Observations of Behaviour

Observations of people crossing roads were made in July 1945 and May 1946. It was found that higher proportions looked for oncoming traffic before crossing the road at corners and stepping out from behind an obstruction in the road which blocked the view, in May 1946 than in July 1945. There was however no considerable increase in the proportion using pedestrian crossings.

On the whole the results of the observations confirm those of the attitude questions, and it seems that people are taking rather more care.


The Road Safety campaign has evidently succeeded in making a large proportion of the population aware of danger on the roads and is making people take this problem more seriously. It seems in fact from the results that so far as making the public

aware of the problem is concerned, the campaign that has been carried out, has done almost all that can be done.

Further advertisements of the same or similar types would be unlikely to result in a higher proportion of the public knowing about road danger, but repetition might of course make people think about it more.

On the other hand the results suggest that the public is now ready to accept more specific advice about road behaviour. People are aware of the need to be careful and (see Appendix (4)) are ready to support more physical measures, such as the putting up of signs and traffic lights, to reduce accidents. Further publicity concerning the best way to act in the various situations likely to lead to accidents might be desirable.

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