1.1 Survey Methodology and Aim
This document reports the findings from a national survey of 1,244 people aged 15 years and over, conducted in May/June 1995. The survey is the eighth in a series of similar national studies conducted since October 1986 for the ATSB Road Safety, designed to monitor key community attitudes toward road safety issues.
1.2 Major Findings
The results to Wave 8 show that speed and alcohol continue to be recognised by the community as the primary issues in road safety. Driver fatigue , however, appears to be gaining greater public attention, with one in four people mentioning tiredness as a major cause of road crashes.
A feature of this year’s survey has been a more detailed exploration of public attitudes toward speed. While there is little indication of change in personal speeding behaviour, the findings do suggest a high level of community acceptance of current speed regulations and an intolerance of excessive speeds, especially on urban roads. Furthermore, there appears to be a considerable body of opinion favouring lower speed limits in residential areas.
There are also encouraging signs that the community is taking a more responsible approach to alcohol use. Compared with Wave 7 findings, fewer people are choosing to drink and drive, and the community at large is showing a greater awareness of the recommended consumption guidelines.
Reported seat belt usage remains high, particularly for front seat travellers; some 96% of people claim to always wear a belt in the front seat of a vehicle, while 86% say they always buckle up in the back.
Despite the fact that speed is regarded by a majority of Australians (56%) as a key factor leading to road crashes, there is evidence of a widespread tendency for people to violate the existing speed laws.
The survey found that four in every five drivers (78%) readily admit to exceeding the speed limit by 10 km/hr or more, at least occasionally, with one in six (17%) claiming to do so on most occasions. Furthermore, nearly half of all licence holders acknowledge being booked at some time for speeding, one in twenty in the last six months.
The reported tendency to drive at speeds above the posted speed limit is more evident among males than females, and is most pronounced among younger drivers.
On a more positive note, the survey findings reflect a general recognition of the dangers associated with speed. Some four in five people agree with the proposition that an accident at 70 km/hr will be a lot more severe than one at 60 km/hr, and over half (55%) believe that a 10 km/hr increase in driving speed will significantly increase the likelihood of accident involvement.
There are indications of a high level of awareness of police enforcement efforts, with three in five people reporting that the amount of speed enforcement has increased over the past two years; and while most drivers say their driving speed has remained the same during this period, a sizeable minority (26%) say they are now travelling at lower speeds.
It is particularly encouraging to find that the current speed regulations are meeting the broad approval of the Australian community. The vast majority of people (85%), across all demographic groups, agree that speed limits are generally set at reasonable levels and most (71%) believe that the 60 km/hr limit in urban areas should be enforced with a tolerance of 5 km/hr or less.
The survey also found a substantial level of support (62%) for a lowering of the urban residential limit to 50 km/hr, with only 16% indicating strong disapproval.
It is clear that alcohol is still widely regarded as an important road safety issue, with drink driving being cited by half the survey population as one of the main contributors to road crashes. People aged 15 to 24 years appear to be most conscious of the risks associated with alcohol; a third of this group nominate drink driving as the primary cause of road accidents and three in five mention it as a major factor.
The general awareness of drink driving is undoubtedly reinforced by the continuing high profile of random breath testing activities on Australian roads. Nearly two-thirds of licensed drivers have reported seeing RBT operations in the past six months and 19% say they have been personally tested.
Information collected on people’s attitudes to alcohol use suggests a growing willingness to adopt safer drinking and driving practices. While one in five licence holders claim to be non-drinkers, an additional 43% indicate that they abstain from drinking when they are planning to drive; this represents a marked increase over the level of voluntary abstinence (34%) reported in the previous survey.
When those who admit to drinking and driving are asked what strategies they use to stay under the legal blood alcohol limit, they commonly refer to drinking more slowly than usual (38%), or restricting their number of drinks (32%). It is pleasing to note, however, that a substantial proportion of beer drinkers (35%) are saying they control their alcohol intake by drinking light beer.
Although relatively few drinkers (7%) report using a self-operated breath testing machine in a pub or club in the last six months, a substantial number express an interest in using such a device. Almost half (44%) say that, given the opportunity, they would be likely to test their breath to decide whether or not to drive; young males show a particularly strong level of interest.
As was the case in Wave 7 of this survey, respondents were asked about their knowledge of the recommended alcohol consumption guidelines. The findings again reflect a reasonable level of understanding of the number of standard drinks that can be consumed per hour. Overall, there appears to have been an increase in community awareness of safe consumption rates.
Among people who indicated that they do drink and drive, some 79% of males and 75% of females are within one drink of the correct number specified for the first hour and most (86% of males and 76% of females) correctly state one drink or less for each subsequent hour.
In the current survey, an attempt was also made to explore community perceptions of the "standard drink", by asking respondents to estimate the number of standard drinks in a stubby/can of full-strength beer or a bottle of wine. The results suggest that beer drinkers have a reasonable understanding of the term, with most (72%) either correctly specifying one and a half drinks in a can of beer or, more conservatively, estimating two.
Wine drinkers, on the other hand, tend to under-estimate the number of standard drinks in a bottle of wine; relatively few give the correct answer of seven, and over half (53%) say five or less.
Type: Research and Analysis Report
Author(s): P Mitchell-Taverner, K Adams & S Heijtmanek
Topics: Community attitudes
Publication Date: 01/12/95