A comparison of the psychological, social, and legal factors contributing to speeding and drink driving behaviour

Livingstone, Kerrie Anne (2011) A comparison of the psychological, social, and legal factors contributing to speeding and drink driving behaviour. Masters by Research thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


Within Australia, motor vehicle injury is the leading cause of hospital admissions and fatalities. Road crash data reveals that among the factors contributing to crashes in Queensland, speed and alcohol continue to be overrepresented. While alcohol is the number one contributing factor to fatal crashes, speeding also contributes to a high proportion of crashes. Research indicates that risky driving is an important contributor to road crashes. However, it has been debated whether all risky driving behaviours are similar enough to be explained by the same combination of factors. Further, road safety authorities have traditionally relied upon deterrence based countermeasures to reduce the incidence of illegal driving behaviours such as speeding and drink driving. However, more recent research has focussed on social factors to explain illegal driving behaviours. The purpose of this research was to examine and compare the psychological, legal, and social factors contributing to two illegal driving behaviours: exceeding the posted speed limit and driving when over the legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) for the drivers licence type. Complementary theoretical perspectives were chosen to comprehensively examine these two behaviours including Akers’ social learning theory, Stafford and Warr’s expanded deterrence theory, and personality perspectives encompassing alcohol misuse, sensation seeking, and Type-A behaviour pattern. The program of research consisted of two phases: a preliminary pilot study, and the main quantitative phase. The preliminary pilot study was undertaken to inform the development of the quantitative study and to ensure the clarity of the theoretical constructs operationalised in this research. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 11 Queensland drivers recruited from Queensland Transport Licensing Centres and Queensland University of Technology (QUT). These interviews demonstrated that the majority of participants had engaged in at least one of the behaviours, or knew of someone who had. It was also found among these drivers that the social environment in which both behaviours operated, including family and friends, and the social rewards and punishments associated with the behaviours, are important in their decision making. The main quantitative phase of the research involved a cross-sectional survey of 547 Queensland licensed drivers. The aim of this study was to determine the relationship between speeding and drink driving and whether there were any similarities or differences in the factors that contribute to a driver’s decision to engage in one or the other. A comparison of the participants self-reported speeding and self-reported drink driving behaviour demonstrated that there was a weak positive association between these two behaviours. Further, participants reported engaging in more frequent speeding at both low (i.e., up to 10 kilometres per hour) and high (i.e., 10 kilometres per hour or more) levels, than engaging in drink driving behaviour. It was noted that those who indicated they drove when they may be over the legal limit for their licence type, more frequently exceeded the posted speed limit by 10 kilometres per hour or more than those who complied with the regulatory limits for drink driving. A series of regression analyses were conducted to investigate the factors that predict self-reported speeding, self-reported drink driving, and the preparedness to engage in both behaviours. In relation to self-reported speeding (n = 465), it was found that among the sociodemographic and person-related factors, younger drivers and those who score high on measures of sensation seeking were more likely to report exceeding the posted speed limit. In addition, among the legal and psychosocial factors it was observed that direct exposure to punishment (i.e., being detected by police), direct punishment avoidance (i.e., engaging in an illegal driving behaviour and not being detected by police), personal definitions (i.e., personal orientation or attitudes toward the behaviour), both the normative and behavioural dimensions of differential association (i.e., refers to both the orientation or attitude of their friends and family, as well as the behaviour of these individuals), and anticipated punishments were significant predictors of self-reported speeding. It was interesting to note that associating with significant others who held unfavourable definitions towards speeding (the normative dimension of differential association) and anticipating punishments from others were both significant predictors of a reduction in self-reported speeding. In relation to self-reported drink driving (n = 462), a logistic regression analysis indicated that there were a number of significant predictors which increased the likelihood of whether participants had driven in the last six months when they thought they may have been over the legal alcohol limit. These included: experiences of direct punishment avoidance; having a family member convicted of drink driving; higher levels of Type-A behaviour pattern; greater alcohol misuse (as measured by the AUDIT); and the normative dimension of differential association (i.e., associating with others who held favourable attitudes to drink driving). A final logistic regression analysis examined the predictors of whether the participants reported engaging in both drink driving and speeding versus those who reported engaging in only speeding (the more common of the two behaviours) (n = 465). It was found that experiences of punishment avoidance for speeding decreased the likelihood of engaging in both speeding and drink driving; whereas in the case of drink driving, direct punishment avoidance increased the likelihood of engaging in both behaviours. It was also noted that holding favourable personal definitions toward speeding and drink driving, as well as higher levels of on Type-A behaviour pattern, and greater alcohol misuse significantly increased the likelihood of engaging in both speeding and drink driving. This research has demonstrated that the compliance with the regulatory limits was much higher for drink driving than it was for speeding. It is acknowledged that while speed limits are a fundamental component of speed management practices in Australia, the countermeasures applied to both speeding and drink driving do not appear to elicit the same level of compliance across the driving population. Further, the findings suggest that while the principles underpinning the current regime of deterrence based countermeasures are sound, current enforcement practices are insufficient to force compliance among the driving population, particularly in the case of speeding. Future research should further examine the degree of overlap between speeding and drink driving behaviour and whether punishment avoidance experiences for a specific illegal driving behaviour serve to undermine the deterrent effect of countermeasures aimed at reducing the incidence of another illegal driving behaviour. Furthermore, future work should seek to understand the factors which predict engaging in speeding and drink driving behaviours at the same time. Speeding has shown itself to be a pervasive and persistent behaviour, hence it would be useful to examine why road safety authorities have been successful in convincing the majority of drivers of the dangers of drink driving, but not those associated with speeding. In conclusion, the challenge for road safety practitioners will be to convince drivers that speeding and drink driving are equally risky behaviours, with the ultimate goal to reduce the prevalence of both behaviours.

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ID Code: 48913
Item Type: QUT Thesis (Masters by Research)
Supervisor: Watson, Barry & Armstrong, Kerry
Keywords: speeding, drink driving, enforcement, expanded deterrence theory, Akers’ social learning theory, road safety, punishment avoidance
Divisions: Current > Research Centres > Centre for Accident Research & Road Safety - Qld (CARRS-Q)
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Health
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 29 Feb 2012 05:34
Last Modified: 22 Jun 2017 14:44

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