Illegal street racing and associated (hooning) behaviours

Leal, Nerida Louise (2010) Illegal street racing and associated (hooning) behaviours. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


In an Australian context, the term hooning refers to risky driving behaviours such as illegal street racing and speed trials, as well as behaviours that involve unnecessary noise and smoke, which include burn outs, donuts, fish tails, drifting and other skids. Hooning receives considerable negative media attention in Australia, and since the 1990s all Australian jurisdictions have implemented vehicle impoundment programs to deal with the problem. However, there is limited objective evidence of the road safety risk associated with hooning behaviours. Attempts to estimate the risk associated with hooning are limited by official data collection and storage practices, and the willingness of drivers to admit to their illegal behaviour in the event of a crash. International evidence suggests that illegal street racing is associated with only a small proportion of fatal crashes; however, hooning in an Australian context encompasses a broader group of driving behaviours than illegal street racing alone, and it is possible that the road safety risks will differ with these behaviours. There is evidence from North American jurisdictions that vehicle impoundment programs are effective for managing drink driving offenders, and drivers who continue to drive while disqualified or suspended both during and post-impoundment. However, these programs used impoundment periods of 30 – 180 days (depending on the number of previous offences). In Queensland the penalty for a first hooning offence is 48 hours, while the vehicle can be impounded for up to 3 months for a second offence, or permanently for a third or subsequent offence within three years. Thus, it remains unclear whether similar effects will be seen for hooning offenders in Australia, as no evaluations of vehicle impoundment programs for hooning have been published. To address these research needs, this program of research consisted of three complementary studies designed to: (1) investigate the road safety implications of hooning behaviours in terms of the risks associated with the specific behaviours, and the drivers who engage in these behaviours; and (2) assess the effectiveness of current approaches to dealing with the problem; in order to (3) inform policy and practice in the area of hooning behaviour. Study 1 involved qualitative (N = 22) and quantitative (N = 290) research with drivers who admitted engaging in hooning behaviours on Queensland roads. Study 2 involved a systematic profile of a large sample of drivers (N = 834) detected and punished for a hooning offence in Queensland, and a comparison of their driving and crash histories with a randomly sampled group of Queensland drivers with the same gender and age distribution. Study 3 examined the post-impoundment driving behaviour of hooning offenders (N = 610) to examine the effects of vehicle impoundment on driving behaviour. The theoretical framework used to guide the research incorporated expanded deterrence theory, social learning theory, and driver thrill-seeking perspectives. This framework was used to explore factors contributing to hooning behaviours, and interpret the results of the aspects of the research designed to explore the effectiveness of vehicle impoundment as a countermeasure for hooning. Variables from each of the perspectives were related to hooning measures, highlighting the complexity of the behaviour.
This research found that the road safety risk of hooning behaviours appears low, as only a small proportion of the hooning offences in Study 2 resulted in a crash. However, Study 1 found that hooning-related crashes are less likely to be reported than general crashes, particularly when they do not involve an injury, and that higher frequencies of hooning behaviours are associated with hooning-related crash involvement. Further, approximately one fifth of drivers in Study 1 reported being involved in a hooning-related crash in the previous three years, which is comparable to general crash involvement among the general population of drivers in Queensland. Given that hooning-related crashes represented only a sub-set of crash involvement for this sample, this suggests that there are risks associated with hooning behaviour that are not apparent in official data sources. Further, the main evidence of risk associated with the behaviour appears to relate to the hooning driver, as Study 2 found that these drivers are likely to engage in other risky driving behaviours (particularly speeding and driving vehicles with defects or illegal modifications), and have significantly more traffic infringements, licence sanctions and crashes than drivers of a similar (i.e., young) age. Self-report data from the Study 1 samples indicated that Queensland’s vehicle impoundment and forfeiture laws are perceived as severe, and that many drivers have reduced their hooning behaviour to avoid detection. However, it appears that it is more common for drivers to have simply changed the location of their hooning behaviour to avoid detection. When the post-impoundment driving behaviour of the sample of hooning offenders was compared to their pre-impoundment behaviour to examine the effectiveness of vehicle impoundment in Study 3, it was found that there was a small but significant reduction in hooning offences, and also for other traffic infringements generally. As Study 3 was observational, it was not possible to control for extraneous variables, and is, therefore, possible that some of this reduction was due to other factors, such as a reduction in driving exposure, the effects of changes to Queensland’s Graduated Driver Licensing scheme that were implemented during the study period and affected many drivers in the offender sample due to their age, or the extension of vehicle impoundment to other types of offences in Queensland during the post-impoundment period. However, there was a protective effect observed, in that hooning offenders did not show the increase in traffic infringements in the post period that occurred within the comparison sample. This suggests that there may be some effect of vehicle impoundment on the driving behaviour of hooning offenders, and that this effect is not limited to their hooning driving behaviour. To be more confident in these results, it is necessary to measure driving exposure during the post periods to control for issues such as offenders being denied access to vehicles. While it was not the primary aim of this program of research to compare the utility of different theoretical perspectives, the findings of the research have a number of theoretical implications. For example, it was found that only some of the deterrence variables were related to hooning behaviours, and sometimes in the opposite direction to predictions. Further, social learning theory variables had stronger associations with hooning. These results suggest that a purely legal approach to understanding hooning behaviours, and designing and implementing countermeasures designed to reduce these behaviours, are unlikely to be successful. This research also had implications for policy and practice, and a number of recommendations were made throughout the thesis to improve the quality of relevant data collection practices. Some of these changes have already occurred since the expansion of the application of vehicle impoundment programs to other offences in Queensland. It was also recommended that the operational and resource costs of these laws should be compared to the road safety benefits in ongoing evaluations of effectiveness to ensure that finite traffic policing resources are allocated in a way that produces maximum road safety benefits. However, as the evidence of risk associated with the hooning driver is more compelling than that associated with hooning behaviour, it was argued that the hooning driver may represent the better target for intervention.
Suggestions for future research include ongoing evaluations of the effectiveness of vehicle impoundment programs for hooning and other high-risk driving behaviours, and the exploration of additional potential targets for intervention to reduce hooning behaviour. As the body of knowledge regarding the factors contributing to hooning increases, along with the identification of potential barriers to the effectiveness of current countermeasures, recommendations for changes in policy and practice for hooning behaviours can be made.

Impact and interest:

Citation counts are sourced monthly from Scopus and Web of Science® citation databases.

These databases contain citations from different subsets of available publications and different time periods and thus the citation count from each is usually different. Some works are not in either database and no count is displayed. Scopus includes citations from articles published in 1996 onwards, and Web of Science® generally from 1980 onwards.

Citations counts from the Google Scholar™ indexing service can be viewed at the linked Google Scholar™ search.

Full-text downloads:

3,048 since deposited on 18 Jul 2011
230 in the past twelve months

Full-text downloads displays the total number of times this work’s files (e.g., a PDF) have been downloaded from QUT ePrints as well as the number of downloads in the previous 365 days. The count includes downloads for all files if a work has more than one.

ID Code: 43350
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Watson, Barry, Armstrong, Kerry A., & King, Mark
Keywords: hooning, illegal street racing, vehicle impoundment programs, evaluation, deterrence theory, social learning theory, road safety, Australia
Divisions: Current > Research Centres > Centre for Accident Research & Road Safety - Qld (CARRS-Q)
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Health
Current > Schools > School of Psychology & Counselling
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 18 Jul 2011 02:46
Last Modified: 18 Jul 2011 02:46

Export: EndNote | Dublin Core | BibTeX

Repository Staff Only: item control page