The relationship between drivers’ perceptions toward police speed enforcement and self-reported speeding behaviour

Soole, David William (2012) The relationship between drivers’ perceptions toward police speed enforcement and self-reported speeding behaviour. Masters by Research thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


Exceeding the speed limit and driving too fast for the conditions are regularly cited as significant contributing factors in traffic crashes, particularly fatal and serious injury crashes. Despite an extensive body of research highlighting the relationship between increased vehicle speeds and crash risk and severity, speeding remains a pervasive behaviour on Australian roads. The development of effective countermeasures designed to reduce the prevalence of speeding behaviour requires that this behaviour is well understood. The primary aim of this program of research was to develop a better understanding of the influence of drivers’ perceptions and attitudes toward police speed enforcement on speeding behaviour.

Study 1 employed focus group discussions with 39 licensed drivers to explore the influence of perceptions relating to specific characteristics of speed enforcement policies and practices on drivers’ attitudes towards speed enforcement. Three primary factors were identified as being most influential: site selection; visibility; and automaticity (i.e., whether the enforcement approach is automated/camera-based or manually operated). Perceptions regarding these enforcement characteristics were found to influence attitudes regarding the perceived legitimacy and transparency of speed enforcement. Moreover, misperceptions regarding speed enforcement policies and practices appeared to also have a substantial impact on attitudes toward speed enforcement, typically in a negative direction. These findings have important implications for road safety given that prior research has suggested that the effectiveness of speed enforcement approaches may be reduced if efforts are perceived by drivers as being illegitimate, such that they do little to encourage voluntary compliance.

Study 1 also examined the impact of speed enforcement approaches varying in the degree of visibility and automaticity on self-reported willingness to comply with speed limits. These discussions suggested that all of the examined speed enforcement approaches (see Section 1.5 for more details) generally showed potential to reduce vehicle speeds and encourage compliance with posted speed limits. Nonetheless, participant responses suggested a greater willingness to comply with approaches operated in a highly visible manner, irrespective of the corresponding level of automaticity of the approach. While less visible approaches were typically associated with poorer rates of driver acceptance (e.g., perceived as “sneaky” and “unfair”), participants reported that such approaches would likely encourage long-term and network-wide impacts on their own speeding behaviour, as a function of the increased unpredictability of operations and increased direct (specific deterrence) and vicarious (general deterrence) experiences with punishment.

Participants in Study 1 suggested that automated approaches, particularly when operated in a highly visible manner, do little to encourage compliance with speed limits except in the immediate vicinity of the enforcement location. While speed cameras have been criticised on such grounds in the past, such approaches can still have substantial road safety benefits if implemented in high-risk settings. Moreover, site-learning effects associated with automated approaches can also be argued to be a beneficial by-product of enforcement, such that behavioural modifications are achieved even in the absence of actual enforcement. Conversely, manually operated approaches were reported to be associated with more network-wide impacts on behaviour. In addition, the reported acceptance of such methods was high, due to the increased swiftness of punishment, ability for additional illegal driving behaviours to be policed and the salutary influence associated with increased face-to-face contact with authority.

Study 2 involved a quantitative survey conducted with 718 licensed Queensland drivers from metropolitan and regional areas. The survey sought to further examine the influence of the visibility and automaticity of operations on self-reported likelihood and duration of compliance. Overall, the results from Study 2 corroborated those of Study 1. All examined approaches were again found to encourage compliance with speed limits, such that all approaches could be considered to be “effective”. Nonetheless, significantly greater self-reported likelihood and duration of compliance was associated with visibly operated approaches, irrespective of the corresponding automaticity of the approach. In addition, the impact of automaticity was influenced by visibility; such that significantly greater self-reported likelihood of compliance was associated with manually operated approaches, but only when they are operated in a less visible fashion. Conversely, manually operated approaches were associated with significantly greater durations of self-reported compliance, but only when they are operated in a highly visible manner.

Taken together, the findings from Studies 1 and 2 suggest that enforcement efforts, irrespective of their visibility or automaticity, generally encourage compliance with speed limits. However, the duration of these effects on behaviour upon removal of the enforcement efforts remains questionable and represents an area where current speed enforcement practices could possibly be improved. Overall, it appears that identifying the optimal mix of enforcement operations, implementing them at a sufficient intensity and increasing the unpredictability of enforcement efforts (e.g., greater use of less visible approaches, random scheduling) are critical elements of success.

Hierarchical multiple regression analyses were also performed in Study 2 to investigate the punishment-related and attitudinal constructs that influence self-reported frequency of speeding behaviour. The research was based on the theoretical framework of expanded deterrence theory, augmented with three particular attitudinal constructs. Specifically, previous research examining the influence of attitudes on speeding behaviour has typically focussed on attitudes toward speeding behaviour in general only. This research sought to more comprehensively explore the influence of attitudes by also individually measuring and analysing attitudes toward speed enforcement and attitudes toward the appropriateness of speed limits on speeding behaviour.

Consistent with previous research, a number of classical and expanded deterrence theory variables were found to significantly predict self-reported frequency of speeding behaviour. Significantly greater speeding behaviour was typically reported by those participants who perceived punishment associated with speeding to be less certain, who reported more frequent use of punishment avoidance strategies and who reported greater direct experiences with punishment. A number of interesting differences in the significant predictors among males and females, as well as younger and older drivers, were reported. Specifically, classical deterrence theory variables appeared most influential on the speeding behaviour of males and younger drivers, while expanded deterrence theory constructs appeared more influential for females. These findings have important implications for the development and implementation of speeding countermeasures. Of the attitudinal factors, significantly greater self-reported frequency of speeding behaviour was reported among participants who held more favourable attitudes toward speeding and who perceived speed limits to be set inappropriately low. Disappointingly, attitudes toward speed enforcement were found to have little influence on reported speeding behaviour, over and above the other deterrence theory and attitudinal constructs. Indeed, the relationship between attitudes toward speed enforcement and self-reported speeding behaviour was completely accounted for by attitudes toward speeding. Nonetheless, the complexity of attitudes toward speed enforcement are not yet fully understood and future research should more comprehensively explore the measurement of this construct.

Finally, given the wealth of evidence (both in general and emerging from this program of research) highlighting the association between punishment avoidance and speeding behaviour, Study 2 also sought to investigate the factors that influence the self-reported propensity to use punishment avoidance strategies. A standard multiple regression analysis was conducted for exploratory purposes only. The results revealed that punishment-related and attitudinal factors significantly predicted approximately one fifth of the variance in the dependent variable. The perceived ability to avoid punishment, vicarious punishment experience, vicarious punishment avoidance and attitudes toward speeding were all significant predictors. Future research should examine these relationships more thoroughly and identify additional influential factors.

In summary, the current program of research has a number of implications for road safety and speed enforcement policy and practice decision-making. The research highlights a number of potential avenues for the improvement of public education regarding enforcement efforts and provides a number of insights into punishment avoidance behaviours. In addition, the research adds strength to the argument that enforcement approaches should not only demonstrate effectiveness in achieving key road safety objectives, such as reduced vehicle speeds and associated crashes, but also strive to be transparent and legitimate, such that voluntary compliance is encouraged. A number of potential strategies are discussed (e.g., point-to-point speed cameras, intelligent speed adaptation. The correct mix and intensity of enforcement approaches appears critical for achieving optimum effectiveness from enforcement efforts, as well as enhancements in the unpredictability of operations and swiftness of punishment. Achievement of these goals should increase both the general and specific deterrent effects associated with enforcement through an increased perceived risk of detection and a more balanced exposure to punishment and punishment avoidance experiences.

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ID Code: 54400
Item Type: QUT Thesis (Masters by Research)
Supervisor: Watson, Barry C.
Keywords: speeding, police, enforcement, visibility, automaticity, behaviour, self-report, road safety, expanded deterrence theory, attitudes
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 Oct 2012 23:12
Last Modified: 28 Jun 2017 14:44

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