Nudging down theft of bicycles and from parked vehicles
Hugh and Liz had just bought a new house. They had wanted to upgrade to a larger house for many years and now decided on an area to move to. Before moving home, they looked at the crime rates, schools for their children, local amenities for shopping, and things to do. The house seemed perfect so there was no hesitation in arranging the move. In the weeks following moving in to their new home they received all the usual junk mail, most of which went straight into the bin. One of the leaflets that they received through their letterbox was a leaflet saying to remember to check that they have locked their car, Hugh and Liz thought that was a nice a reminder and continued with their day.
Nudges are small, cheap and subtle modifications of choice architecture (i.e., changing a default option to the most favourable outcome) that can be used to help an individual make a better decision. Thaler and Sunstein published the idea of using nudging in the highly influential book ‘Nudge’ in 2008. Recently Richard Thaler has gone on to win the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for his work on nudging.
Nudging has been used to aid decision-making in many ways. In crime prevention nudging has helped to reduce thefts from parked vehicles (Roach et al., 2016). A pilot study in County Durham in the North of England between September 2015 and October 2015 investigated how nudging can be implemented to reduce thefts from cars. Firstly, Roach and colleagues examined the reasons for cars being left insecure finding that there are three reasons: i) forgetting to securely lock a car whilst going into a shop, ii) forgetting to lock a car on one’s driveway, and iii) forgetting to lock a car outside or adjacent to one’s property. They choose four target areas (2 x experimental and 2 x control) and tailored their nudging technique to the local demographic. One of the basic principles of nudging is that nudging is more effective when the message is tailored (i.e., worded or presented) to the recipient. Leaflets were distributed with simple messages saying to “Take care of your vehicle” and “More than 1/3 of thefts in your area involve unlocked cars. Why? Because it’s ….. EASY.” The results of this found a significant reduction in thefts from cars because reminding car owners to lock their cars reduced the number of opportunities for thieves. In the two experimental areas there were reductions of 33% and 25% in crime compared to the crime statistics of the last 3 years.
Another type of theft that nudging has aided in reducing is bicycle theft (Johnson et al., 2008; Nettle et al. 2012). In countries and cities where cycling is a popular past-time and way of commuting bicycle theft can be a major problem. Police statistics indicate that in England and Wales between April 2011 and May 2012 there were 115,905 bicycles thefts. Traditional interventions to tackle theft include (i) registering bicycles with local police forces, ii) improving bicycle parking facilities, and iii) improvements to bicycle locks and how they are applied. On average CCTV surveillance cameras alone only reduce crime by 7% (Nettle et al. 2012).
Simply placing small stickers depicting how to secure the lock correctly on parked bicycles has been an effective way in reducing bicycle theft (Sidebottom et al., 2009). A second nudging intervention at university locations found that placing signs with ‘watching eyes’ (an image of a pair of eyes) near bicycle stands reduced bicycle theft levels (Nettle et al., 2012). These signs decreased bicycle theft by 62% over 12 months.
We have seen that nudging can be used as a subtle technique to tackle crime rates. Nudging can take the form of small, cost-effective interventions such as distributing leaflets (Roach et al., 2016), strategically placing stickers (Sidebottom et al., 2009) and placing ‘watching eye’ signs near bicycle stands (Nettle et al., 2012). So like, Hugh and Liz moving into their new house if you receive a leaflet through the post simply reminding you to lock your car it may that nudging is being subtly used to reduce crime.