CR 167: Community Attitudes to Road Safety: Community Attitudes Survey Wave 9 (1996)

Survey Methodology and Aim

This document reports the findings from a national survey of 1,286 people aged 15 years and over, conducted in May/early June 1996. The survey is Wave 9 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. The previous survey in the series was Wave 8, conducted 12 months earlier.

Major Findings

The results for Wave 9 again show that speed and alcohol are recognised by the community as the principal issues in road safety. Each of these two factors is spontaneously mentioned by more than half the population as major contributors to road crashes. Speed, however, is most often cited as the primary causal factor.

Other reasons commonly suggested, each by close to one in four people, are lack of concentration, carelessness and driver fatigue.

Community support for the introduction of a 50 km/hr speed limit in urban residential areas is again reflected in the survey findings, along with widespread acceptance of current speed regulations and low tolerance of excessive speeds. A new question in the survey also finds very strong support, in all jurisdictions, for legislation requiring people to carry their licence at all times when driving a motor vehicle.

Reported seat belt usage remains high, particularly for front seat travellers. Nineteen out of twenty claim always to wear a belt in the front seat of a vehicle, while 86% say they always buckle up in the back.


The survey again found that one third of Australians say speed is the principal factor leading to road crashes and over half consider it a key contributor. Despite this and a conservative attitude to driving in most of the community, there is still a sizeable minority who admit to violating existing speed laws.

Four in every five drivers reportedly exceed the speed limit by 10 km/hr or more at least occasionally, with 15% claiming to do so on most occasions. Nearly half of all licence holders acknowledge being booked at some time for speeding, with one in six (16%) booked in the last two years and one in twenty in the last six months.

The inclination to exceed the legal speed limit is still greatest among males and younger drivers. Encouragingly, however, the survey findings continue to show that there is a generally held recognition of the dangers associated with speed. Four in every five people agree with the proposition that an accident at 70 km/hr will be a good deal more severe that one at 60 km/hr. Close to three in five believe that a 10 km/hr rise in driving speed will significantly increase the likelihood of being involved in an accident.

There is a continuing high level of awareness of speed enforcement efforts, with three in five people perceiving an increase in police activity over the past two years. Further, while most drivers say their driving speeds have remained unchanged during this period, an increasing and sizeable minority (nearly three in ten) now claim they are travelling at lower speeds than before. Females tend to drive at slower speeds than males, though males too are expressing a tendency to reduce their driving speeds.

The survey again shows broad approval among the Australian community for current speed regulations. Nearly nine in ten agree that speed limits are generally set at reasonable levels and three in four believe that the 60 km/hr limit in urban zones should be enforced, with a tolerance of 5 km/hr. Similarly, more than 80% of people favour enforcement of 100 km/hr rural speed limits to within 10 km/hr.

Wave 9 results confirm last year’s support for a 50 km/hr urban residential speed limit. More than six in ten people say they would approve of the reduced limit, while less than one in five voice strong disapproval.


Alcohol continues to be regarded as the second most critical road safety issue, after speed. Some 15% of people consider drink driving to be the main cause of road crashes (compared to 34% for speed), and over half the population nominate it as a contributing factor. This includes seven in ten people in the vulnerable 15 to 24 year age group.

Random breath testing activities on Australian roads continue to enjoy a high profile. Close to seven in ten of all licensed drivers report seeing RBT operations in the past six months, with one in five saying they have personally been tested in that time. Males again report both a higher awareness of RBT activity and a higher incidence of testing than do females. Awareness tends to be more pronounced in the capital cities than in non-metropolitan areas.

Investigation of people's attitudes towards alcohol confirms a greater willingness to adopt safer drinking and driving practices evident since the Wave 7 survey, conducted in 1993. While one in five licence holders in Wave 9 claim to be non-drinkers, an additional two in five say they abstain from drinking when they are planning to drive. These figures have remained steady since Wave 8 but represent a marked increase over the level of voluntary abstinence (one in three) reported in Wave 7.

Use of self-operated breath testing machines in a pub or club in the last six months continues to be rare among drivers, at only 6%. However, close to half of all licence holders who ever drink and drive say that, given the opportunity, they would be likely to test their breath to decide whether or not to drive.

Knowledge of recommended alcohol consumption guidelines was again investigated in Wave 9. The findings continue to reflect a reasonable level of understanding of the number of standard drinks that can be consumed, with females generally recognising that they should consume less drinks than males.

Most beer drinkers display a good understanding of the term "standard drink" when asked to estimate the number of drinks in a 375 ml stubby or can of full strength beer. Seven in ten either correctly specify one and a half or, more conservatively, estimate it at two or more standard drinks. Wine drinkers, on the other hand, tend to under-estimate the number of standard drinks in a bottle of wine with relatively few (14%) correctly suggesting seven or more.

This document describes the research that was conducted and provides a more detailed analysis of the results for Wave 9. Further information can be obtained through the department.

Type: Research and Analysis Report

Author(s): P Mitchell-Taverner, K Adams & S Hejtmanek

Topics: Community attitudes

Publication Date: 01/10/96