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1.3 Acquiring authority - Advanced

Authority is gained through credibility (believability and trust). Credibility comes from:

  • expert figures
  • trustworthy statements based on knowledge and experience of the world and of people
  • evidence that is collected including numbers, statistics, and individual case studies (subjective and objective data)
  • a persuasive form, format, mode and medium.   

It is when all of these steps are taken that we believe the information. In other words, even if a government institution seems powerful it is only powerful when we believe it: we bestow authority. That is why even the Centre for Road Safety has to work hard to get its message across to us.

Work through these sections to understand how texts present different types of authority.

Appropriating authority

There are some professions that we respect automatically: the medical profession is one of those professions, particularly specialists on whom we depend for our quality of life. A campaign encouraging people not to rush when driving is supported by the Australian Medical Association and features a trustworthy and respected figure, the neurosurgeon Dr Owler. Watch and listen carefully to the advertisements below and complete the activities to come to an understanding of how authority is assumed.

Don’t Rush: from storyboard to screen  

Look at the different versions of this advertisement, then complete the student worksheet 1.3.1 Don’t Rush (Advanced):

Have a look at the Don’t Rush storyboard and finish the worksheet.

Class discussion

  • Is offer or demand more effective for expressing authority in advertisements? Why?
  • In what ways do we call on authorities when we compose texts?
  • In the experience of responding, where does authority lie? In your discussions consider the text, the composer and the responder.

Understanding the world

To have authority one needs to understand the world and how institutions work. The Centre for Road Safety always acts from real data. Safety experts study the crash statistics, they identify a problem and they work out who the target groups are. From there, they devise the best way possible to help the community while being aware of the negative reactions of some target groups to their authority.  It’s a long and complex process.

The role of statistics and research 

How does the Centre for Road Safety decide what campaigns to produce?
The Centre for Road Safety identifies issues that impact on road safety through the analysis of data on road crashes, fatalities and serious injuries. This statistical data is gathered from a variety of sources.

Have a look at some of these statistics by downloading the Road Toll documents from the website.

Understanding people

Knowledge of the world is important but to be effective one needs knowledge of people, their motivations and their reactions. The Centre for Road Safety is certainly interested in the analysis of road crash data but this is only the first step in maintaining authority sufficient to influence people in a democratic society. It needs to understand the human factors and so it commissions research on how driver behaviour can cause crashes. 

Read the report on Driver Fatigue to understand:

  • the nature of fatigue
  • driver attitudes to fatigue
  • how we can tell we are fatigued, and
  • ways to prevent fatigue related crashes.

Attitudinal survey – understanding yourself

Complete the student worksheet 1.3.2 Driver fatigue (All students).

Communicating with authority

How one communicates is an important factor in gaining and maintaining authority.  Language that is clear and ideas which are well expressed and coherent give the appearance of being authoritative. 

Below are the conclusions and recommendations of the extensive and detailed 122 page report about driver fatigue: 2012 Driver Fatigue Quantitative and Qualitative Study.

4. Less severe symptoms of fatigue were ignored and many did not know when being tired was too tired. That is, when the chance of a microsleep is high. In that regard, there is an opportunity to communicate how easily a microsleep can occur when tired and strongly link other signs of fatigue with the onset of microsleeps.

5. The 17-29 year male segment were generally of the mindset that they are somewhat invincible and capable of “pushing on”, even when they do experience signs of fatigue. They were also less inclined to prepare themselves before taking a long trip. While the need to ‘push on’ was strongest amongst this younger sub-group, consideration should be given to further educating drivers on the signs of driver fatigue in order to heighten the perceived level of risk associated with experiencing ‘early warning’ signs. This could also stress the importance of stopping immediately when those signs appear, no matter how long the trip; to not push on, especially when close to reaching their destination.

6. The peer pressure to demonstrate that you can keep driving when tired was strong amongst younger males. Perhaps the force of peer pressure can be harnessed to stop drivers from pushing on by devising a strategy that is specifically targeted at young male drivers who are too proud to take a break.

7. When compared with driving under the influence of alcohol and to some extent speeding, driving fatigued was not considered as serious. We would suggest consideration be given to using future communication to lift the seriousness and prevalence of driver-related fatigue crashes and perhaps utilising comparisons of driving fatigued to driving with a high blood alcohol level or at high speeds.

How does use of language convey a sense of authority?
After considering the extract from the report, complete the student worksheet 1.3.3 A sense of authority (Advanced).

Last update: 17th July 2019