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Nudging Mexico City drivers into feeling co-responsible for everyone’s safety: a new license issuing form

Taking a course and a comprehensive driving test has not been a mandatory requirement to issue a driver's license in Mexico City and implementing such a system is not simple. The City is building institutional capabilities to effectively implement mandatory courses and tests to improve road safety. Meanwhile, SEMOVI has modified the issuing license form to nudge applicants into feeling co-responsible for road safety and refraining from driving if they deem themselves incapable of doing it safely.

Innovation Summary

Innovation Overview

Mexico City has never required comprehensive and mandatory driving courses and tests for persons aiming to get their driver's licenses. Years ago, there was a test consisting of random and arbitrary questions about the Transit Regulations that, by design, usually ended in a corrupt exchange to avoid the test. Now, the City is building the institutional capabilities to implement courses and a test as requisite to obtain a license, granting that those persons who pass the test are qualified to drive.

While this system is built, SEMOVI implemented a behaviourally-inspired intervention to nudge license applicants into refraining from driving if they deem themselves incapable of doing it safely, by inducing a sense of co-responsibility towards others' safety.

The original process implied paying for the license and going to a SEMOVI office only to sign the document and place a fingerprint on it. Reading the document was not even necessary to complete the process and it did not provide salient information that would make future drivers aware of the responsibility that driving a car is.

The document privileged the driver's personal information and had two small print boxes with legal information that did not make the consequences of not driving properly or not knowing the rules explicit. Thus, this old format triggered behavioural biases among applicants:
- Status quo bias: the old process did not require any real effort to grasp and process information
- Thinking fast heuristics: the process makes you focus on the personal information section and then it only requires you to sign, without having to pay attention to anything else
- Social norms: everybody assumes that driving without proper training and testing your capabilities is what everybody does so it must be okay
- Availability bias: individuals do not grasp the importance of the rules contained in the small print, as if it did not exist
-Optimism bias: since people who are not fully able to drive get a license as a secondary ID document, disregarding the implications and risks of driving, especially without proper training and information

The innovation consists of changing the format of the licence application. The new format has a manifesto in which the applicant, under oath, declares and signs that she:
- Can read and write
- Is providing true information
- Meets the requirements for obtaining a driver's license and has the expertise to drive in Mexico City
- Knows the contents of the Transit Regulations, as well as the obligations that you acquire as a driver and the sanctions to which you are creditor in case of default
- Is physically and mentally fit to drive or, if she requires a special attachment, agrees to drive only if she and/or the vehicle has it

Also, the person has to read a paragraph out loud in which she expresses that she is aware of what the good practices driving in the city are. After that, the person who grants the license has to read a paragraph to express the responsibility that she has when granting a driver's license to the applicant. The format has a specific space for the public official in charge to comment on the suitability of the applicant, which is not an impediment to receiving the license and does not become an opportunity for corruption.
That is why, this intervention:
- Creates barriers to make the process more thoughtful, but doesn’t represent an opportunity for corruption
- Makes people “think slow”, signing on their responsibilities, one by one
- Makes the responsibility of requesting the license more salient
- Implements an oath to make being a responsible driver a more socially desirable trait and makes the risk of driving without knowing the rules visible
- The observations on the suitability of the applicant that the public official is required to write on the document seeks to remind her of the responsibility she bears when granting a license
- Writing these observations does not represent a reason for denying the license (i.e. it is not a chance for corruption) but it is visible for the applicant (social pressure)

The pilot was implemented in 8 service offices for a month (Jan 2019). After the test, the innovation was evaluated with a diff in diff test. The results showed a reduction of 5.32 daily new licenses issued in the pilot modules compared to the control modules at the time and the same pilot offices during the same month of the previous years (Jan 2018 and 2017). It means, daily, 5.2 persons, who do not know how to drive, postponing the obtention of the license.
A remarkable fact to mention: in order to attend a SEMOVI office, citizens have to pay the license (44 USD) at the Finance Secretary first. This means that those 5.2 persons declined or delayed the obtention of a license they already paid just because of the effect the new format had on them.
This innovation was inspired by behavioural insights about integrity and tax compliance (Ariely et al. 2012; Behavioral Insights Team 2012)

Innovation Description

What Makes Your Project Innovative?

The use of behavioural sciences to ensure that people seeking to drive without prior training refrain from obtaining their license. The cost of the intervention was low and the benefits, in terms of road safety, are considerable.
Before, the approach to improve road safety was to implement mandatory tests focused on learning rules (not on rising awareness about the importance of safety), without considering the creation of courses open to every citizen. Today, Mexico City has the first open online courses and in-person 'sensibilisations' for traffic offenders. All these changes are a breakthrough to improve road safety.
Although, for now, there are practical driving courses, this is a first step and it is a way to make people self-select out of the group of those who receive a license. Each one is a person who became aware, even if they didn't delay the obtention of the license to a later moment (after they could get more information or training).

What is the current status of your innovation?

After being tested, this innovation is in the implementation phase in all the SEMOVI service offices, since February 2019. During January 2019, the pilot was implemented out in 8 offices (pilot and evaluation phases), obtaining favourable results.

Innovation Development

Collaborations & Partnerships

This innovation was an internal project at SEMOVI. The areas involved internally were the General Direction of Licenses and Vehicle Transport Operation (implementation with public officials and citizens), the Executive Direction of Information and Communication Technologies (implementation of differentiated formats), the Executive Direction of Culture of Mobility (behavioural insights and experimental design), and the statistical analysis area at the Secretary’s Office (evaluation).

Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries

The users of this innovation are all the individuals who seek to obtain a license to drive a private vehicle in Mexico City. However, this project benefits all citizens of the city, since this change prevents untrained persons to obtain a license, thereby diminishing the probability that these people provoke a traffic accident. Also, the Government benefits from an easy to implement screening process to discriminate against unqualified drivers.

Innovation Reflections

Results, Outcomes & Impacts

In eight SEMOVI service offices, the new license formats were implemented during January 2019. After, the effect of the implementation of the new format at pilot sites on the number of licenses issued throughout such period was measured. The analytical team used the Difference in Differences (DiD) technique: an analysis on licenses and permits issued from January 2017 to February 2019 (775 days). The days before and after the trial period (31 days) were considered.
The team found a reduction of 5.32 *new* licenses per day at the pilot sites with a statistically significant difference (95%), attributed to the implementation of the new format.
A standardization (775 days) of the number of licenses issued per week was performed, in which a decrease was found in the 4 weeks of the pilot test, in the same direction as the DiD coefficient, perhaps due to the fear of lying in an official document.
The effects were not significant for renewals, replacements or new permits for adolescents.

Challenges and Failures

Despite the positive effects found, one of the biggest challenges that this innovation can face is the fact that people could lie or be unaware about their real abilities to drive.
In addition, it was found that the pilot only had a significant effect on people getting their license for the first time, not those renewing it (the effect was negative but not significant). This reassures the importance of creating courses for people with no experience driving so they are able to grasp the knowledge and practices necessary to drive safely around the city.

Still, this format prompts the need and acceptance for the course and test as a fundamental requirement to obtain a license even among those who will be affected by the measure (future drivers trying to get a new license).
It is important to note that this is only one of the steps in the process of building public policies to ensure greater road safety in the near future.

Conditions for Success

For the innovation to succeed, it is necessary that those involved, both the applicant and the public official, do their part. That is, that the applicant reads and signs every section in the format requested, and the public official also reads and writes on every section they need to. In addition, that senior managers, who are responsible for implementing innovations like this, take behavioral insights into account as a serious approach to design and implement public policies.


It has not been replicated yet. To do so, it is important to understand the context and motivations of those individuals potentially affected by the implementation of a similar form. The innovation can be used in every agency responsible to issue driver’s licenses, even those that already implement mandatory courses/tests, since the implementation of this format means no harm and can increase the levels of co-responsibility among the citizenship.

Lessons Learned

Using behavioural insights to shape public policies is an incredibly useful strategy since this helps to understand contexts and problems from an alternative perspective, placing individuals at the centre of the design process, and obtaining positive results with a minimum investment, without creating new opportunities for corruption (as it happens when some programs and bureaucratic processes are implemented with barriers that make it easier to pay for a process rather than actually going through it).

Year: 2019
Level of Government: Regional/State government


  • Implementation - making the innovation happen

Innovation provided by:

Date Published:

11 February 2021

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