Kids are still in for a memorable lesson though.

On 2 December, a group of students and residents gathered at a junior high school in the town of Mibu in Tochigi Prefecture. The purpose was to watch several demonstrations of cars and trucks colliding with stunt performers riding bicycles to illustrate the dangers of traffic accidents.

Scenarios include a bike colliding with an open car door and getting pulled under a truck that turned left while the bike was in its blind spot. In most cases, the stunt performer dramatically rolls along the ground or across the hood of a car badly dented from repeated impacts.

▼ A news report from the show in Mibu

These types of demonstrations take place all over Japan and are known as “Scared Straight” in that it’s intended to frighten children into observing traffic safety. The name comes from the 1978 Oscar-winning documentary in which a group of juvenile delinquents are both berated and encouraged by lifers at Rahway State Prison to stop them from making the same bad life choices.

▼ A clip from Scared Straight

The success of the film spawned a series of similar Scared Straight programs in prisons across the U.S., though their effectiveness has long been a subject of debate. Nevertheless, their core concept of using fear as a teaching tool eventually made its way to Japan, but with some significant changes.

In 1992, a stuntman held a traffic safety seminar at Itabashi Police Station in Tokyo which is believed to have been the start of these demonstration shows. It’s unclear at what point the “scared straight” label was applied to this, but around 2010 when kids riding bikes while gazing at their smartphones became a big problem, Scared Straight shows really started to take off.

▼ Several companies specialize in scared straight such as Worsal

The one similarity that remains with the American Scared Straight programs is that the effectiveness is uncertain. At first glance, it might seem that watching a trained professional bounce off the hood of a car is more impressive than scary, but that may also have the benefit of getting kids’ undivided attention compared to conventional traffic safety programs.

According to a lot of the comments to the many scared straight videos online, these demonstrations do seem to make an impact.

“When they did it at my school, the stuntman pretended to be dead.”
“That’s a great way to teach. Those stunt people are amazing.”
“They’re going to hurt one of these days. They should stop it.”
“After watching one of these I went to check actual drive recorder footage online. That made me want to think a lot more seriously about my driving.”
“I saw one the other day and it really made me scared of the reality of accidents.”

The Journal of Japan Society of Engineers published a case study in 2016 that looked at how well the lessons learned at Scared Straight demonstrations stuck with junior high students. Through surveys conducted before, immediately after, and one month after both Scared Straight and conventional traffic safety programs, they found that the general effects immediately after and one month after were about the same for each. However, students who watched a Scared Straight demonstration specifically held onto a sense of dangerous situations slightly better after one month than other kids.

▼ The Scared Straight class held by Kyoto City goes pretty hard at times

So, in the end, Scared Safe, Japanese style, works as well as any traffic safety program, if not slightly better, so it’s just a matter of cost-effectiveness for schools and local communities who choose that route. They’re still relatively new as well, and with some development, these companies may find even more potent ways to keep kids safe.

Source: YouTube/とちテレNEWS, J-Stage, Kotobank, Worsal
Top image: YouTube/CityOfKyoto
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