The fact that somebody else does something has never seemed to me like a particularly good reason to do it too. A lot of people bought Mk4 Ford Escorts. A lot of people watch Saturday evening TV. Yet the other day I spotted a motorway matrix sign urging drivers to ‘Bin your litter’, simply because ‘other people do’.
Now, normally I like overhead matrix signs. They are useful. Drive often and you’ll learn their language, too. ‘Long delays’ is pretty much shorthand for ‘Motorway shut’ and means you should detour. However, if ‘Long delays’ some way off become just ‘Delays’ as you get closer, it has reopened and might just be ‘Congestion’ by the time you arrive. Or, if you stop briefly to part with four quid for a cheese sandwich, it might even be completely clear.
Yes, sometimes they’re wrong, and Google’s map app is better still at estimating a time of arrival, but you can’t look at that in lane three of the M6. Were it not for these signs, I would have spent many more stationary hours sobbing into a steering wheel. I have seen ‘To J16 (M40), 15 miles, 50 minutes’ and known it to be accurate so many times that it’s one of the reasons why I want to move to somewhere where the mile-to-minute numbers show distinctly more parity.
But when it comes to ‘Bin your litter, other people do’, I have a few problems. One is that ‘bin’ is my preferred verb for the act of throwing a car off a race track, but I’ll let that go. Two is that ‘litter’ only becomes litter if it’s disposed of improperly, doesn’t it? So if it’s binned, it’s not litter. But I’ll leave that, too.
My problem is the use of ‘other people do’, as if this is somehow a persuasive argument. ‘Read the Daily Mail: other people do.’ ‘Eat liver: other people do.’ ‘Go bungee jumping: other people do.’ Sorry, but I don’t like liver.
I know space is short on matrix boards, but is that really the best we can do? Australia’s famous campaign dubbing drink drivers ‘idiots’ – telling them what they are, and what the consequences might be – seems much closer to the mark than encouraging people to be part of a norm with which they don’t want to engage. I suggest: ‘Dropping litter makes you a scumbag’, ‘We have CCTV and will post snakes through your letterbox’ or ‘You will never get a girlfriend by throwing sweet wrappers from your car’.