The psychosocial characteristics and on-road behaviour of unlicensed drivers

Watson, Barry Craig (2004) The psychosocial characteristics and on-road behaviour of unlicensed drivers. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


Unlicensed driving remains a serious problem for road safety, despite ongoing improvements in traffic law enforcement practices and technology. While it does not play a direct causative role in road crashes, unlicensed driving undermines the integrity of the driver licensing system and is associated with a range of high-risk behaviours. This thesis documents three studies that were undertaken to explore the scope and nature of unlicensed driving, in order to develop more effective countermeasures to the behaviour.-----

Study One utilised official road crash data from the Australian state of Queensland to compare the crash involvement patterns of unlicensed drivers with those of licensed drivers. The results confirmed that unlicensed driving is a relatively small, but significant road safety problem. Unlicensed drivers represent over 6% of the drivers involved in fatal crashes and 5% of those in serious injury crashes. Based on a quasi-induced exposure method, unlicensed drivers were found to be almost three times as likely to be involved in a crash than licensed drivers. In the event of a crash, those involving unlicensed drivers were twice as likely to result in a fatality or serious injury. Consistent with these results, the serious crashes involving unlicensed drivers were more likely to feature risky driving behaviours, such as drink driving, speeding and motorcycle use, than those involving licensed drivers.-----

Study Two involved a cross-sectional survey of 309 unlicensed driving offenders who were recruited at the Brisbane Central Magistrates Court. The survey involved a face-to-face interview that took approximately 25 minutes to complete and achieved a response rate of 62.4%. A wide range of offenders participated in the study, including: disqualified and suspended drivers; expired licence holders; drivers without a current or appropriate licence; and those who had never been licensed. The results reinforced concerns about the on-road behaviour of unlicensed drivers. Almost one quarter of all the offenders reported driving unlicensed when they thought they might have been over the alcohol limit. Similarly, 25% reported exceeding the speed limit by 10 km/h or more on most or all occasions, while 15% admitted that they didn't always wear their seat belt. In addition, the results indicated that unlicensed drivers should not be viewed as a homogeneous group. Significant differences were found between the offender types in terms of their socio-demographic characteristics (age, education level, prior criminal convictions); driving history (prior convictions for unlicensed driving and other traffic offences); whether they were aware of being unlicensed; the degree to which they limited their driving while unlicensed; and their drink driving behaviour. In particular, a more deviant sub-group of offenders was identified, that included the disqualified, not currently licensed and never licensed drivers, who reported higher levels of prior criminal offending, alcohol misuse and self-reported drink driving. The results of Study Two also highlight the shortcomings of existing police enforcement practices. Almost one-third of the sample reported that they continued to drive unlicensed after being detected by the police (up until the time of the court hearing), while many offenders reported experiences of punishment avoidance. For example, over one third of the participants reported being pulled over by the police while driving unlicensed and not having their licence checked.-----

Study Three involved the further analysis of the cross-sectional survey data to explore the factors contributing to unlicensed driving. It examined the influence of various personal, social and environmental factors on three aspects of the offenders' behaviour: the frequency of their driving while unlicensed; whether they continued to drive unlicensed after being detected; and their intentions to drive unlicensed in the future. This study was also designed to assess the capacity of a number of different theoretical perspectives to explain unlicensed driving behaviour, including deterrence theory and Akers' (1977) social learning theory. At an applied level, the results of Study Three indicated that personal and social factors exert the strongest influence over unlicensed driving behaviour. The main personal influences on unlicensed driving were: the need to drive for work purposes; exposure to punishment avoidance; personal attitudes to unlicensed driving; and anticipated punishments for the behaviour. The main social influences reflected the social learning construct of differential association, namely being exposed to significant others who both engage in unlicensed driving (behavioural dimension) and hold positive attitudes to the behaviour (normative dimension). At a theoretical level, the results of Study Three have two important implications for traffic psychology and criminology. Firstly, they provided partial support for Stafford and Warr's (1993) reconceptualisation of deterrence theory by demonstrating that the inclusion of punishment avoidance can improve the overall predictive utility of the perspective. Secondly, they suggested that social learning theory represents a more comprehensive framework for predicting illegal driving behaviours, such as unlicensed driving. This is consistent with Akers' (1977; 1990) assertion that formal deterrence processes can be subsumed within social learning theory.-----

Together, the results of the three studies have important implications for road safety. Most importantly, they question the common assumption that unlicensed drivers drive in a more cautious manner to avoid detection. While the findings indicate that many offenders reduce their overall driving exposure in order to avoid detection, this does not appear to result in safer driving. While it remains possible that unlicensed drivers tend to act more cautiously than they would otherwise, it appears that their driving behaviour is primarily designed to reduce their chances of detection. In terms of countermeasures, the research indicates that a multi-strategy approach is required to address the problem of unlicensed driving. Unlicensed drivers do not represent a homogeneous group who are likely to be influenced by the threat of punishment alone. Rather, innovative strategies are required to address the wide range of factors that appear to encourage or facilitate the behaviour. Foremost among these are punishment avoidance and the need to drive for work purposes.

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ID Code: 15923
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Sheehan, Mary & Siskind, Victor
Keywords: Unlicensed, Disqualified, Suspended, Revoked, Road Safety, Driver Licensing, Deterrence Theory, Social Learning, Akers, Theory Testing
Divisions: Current > Research Centres > Centre for Accident Research & Road Safety - Qld (CARRS-Q)
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Health
Current > Institutes > Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation
Current > Schools > School of Psychology & Counselling
Department: Faculty of Health
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2004 Barry Craig Watson
Deposited On: 03 Dec 2008 03:53
Last Modified: 28 Oct 2011 19:40

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