CR 171: Community Attitudes to Road Safety: Community Attitudes Survey Wave 10 (1997)

This document reports the findings from a national survey of 1,298 people representative of the general public aged 15 years and over, conducted in June 1997. The survey is Wave 10 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, Wave 9, was conducted 12 months earlier.

1.2. Major Findings

  • Wave 10 has again confirmed speed and drink driving as the two principal road safety issues in the community mind. Each of these two issues is spontaneously mentioned by more than half of the population as a major contributor to road crashes. Speed, however, is increasingly singled out as the primary factor. Nearly forty percent of the population now identify speed as the main cause of road crashes.
  • This high degree of recognition of the dangers posed by excessive speed is accompanied by a widespread acceptance of current speed regulations, a low tolerance towards excessive speeds and community support for the introduction of a 50 km/hr speed limit in urban residential areas. A perception of increased police efforts towards enforcement of speed limits is evident for the majority of the population.
  • Apart from speed and drink driving, other factors felt spontaneously by close to one in four people to contribute to road accidents are lack of concentration and driver fatigue. Up to one in five blame driver carelessness, poor attitudes and inexperience.
  • The main topics addressed in detail in this research are speed and alcohol. The findings are summarised below in more depth. On a separate issue, however, covered in both Waves 9 and 10, there continues to be strong support for legislation requiring people to carry their licence at all times when driving a motor vehicle.
  • Wave 10 again included questions on seat belts. Reported usage remains high for front seat travel, at 95%, while 88% claim that they buckle up in the back.


  • Past measures have reported a third of Australians nominating speed as the principal factor leading to road crashes. The Wave 10 figure has risen to close to four in ten (39%). Overall, some 63% of the population mention speed as a key contributor, increasing from 57% last year. Despite this growing recognition, there continues to be a sizable minority in the community who admit they regularly exceed existing speed limits.
  • In line with Wave 9 findings, four in every five drivers in Wave 10 say they exceed the speed limit by 10 km/hr or more at least occasionally, with 12% claiming to do so on most occasions. One in five (18%) admit to being booked for speeding in the last two years, close to one in ten (8%) in the last six months. This shows an increasing trend but is in contrast to the findings that most drivers say their driving speeds have remained unchanged since two years ago and that an increasing and sizable minority (nearly three in ten) now claim they are travelling at lower speeds than before.
  • 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 community recognition of the dangers associated with speed. This latest survey has witnessed an increase in the number of males referring to speed as a cause of road crashes. While the age group 15 to 24 years is still the least likely to consider speed to be a factor, more than half (53%) are now acknowledging this danger. This is a rise on the 44% figure reported last year for this age group.
  • Further, 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. Three in five agree that a 10 km/hr rise in driving speed will significantly increase the likelihood of being involved in an accident.
  • Awareness of speed enforcement efforts is high and increasing, with two people in three noticing an increase in police activity over the past two years.
  • Community support for current speed regulations staying at or close to their current levels is again evident in this latest survey, with nine in ten agreeing that speed limits are generally set at reasonable levels. Four in five people believe that the 60 km/hr limit in urban zones should be enforced, with a maximum tolerance of 5 km/hr. Similarly, 85% of people favour enforcement of 100 km/hr rural speed limits with a tolerance of 10 km/hr or less.
  • A 50 km/hr urban residential speed limit is supported by just over half of the population (55%), with a further 10% having no objection to the reduced limit. Positive support for a 40 km/hr urban residential speed limit remains at only one in four people.


  • Drinking before driving continues to be ranked second to excessive speed in terms of its perceived contribution to road crashes. The proportion of people mentioning drink driving as the main cause of road crashes is steady at 15%, compared with nearly forty percent nominating speed. When all factors mentioned spontaneously are examined, however, three out of five recognise alcohol consumption as a contributing factor. This is very similar to a year ago.
  • An encouraging finding from this most recent research is that while the older community members had been less likely than other age groups to cite drink driving as a major factor in road crashes, reference to the potential effect of alcohol when driving is now consistently high across all age groups.
  • Random breath testing activities on Australian roads have a very high level of support (98%). This testing also has high exposure, with 70% having seen it in operation in the past 6 months. One in four (a rise this year) say they have personally been tested in that time. Almost half of the community feel they are witnessing more RBT activity than two years ago. Males continue to report both a higher awareness of RBT activity and a higher incidence of testing than do females. Awareness is more pronounced in the capital cities than in non-metropolitan areas.
  • The majority of licence holders claim they exhibit a responsible attitude towards drinking and driving. However, while Wave 8 in 1995 witnessed a marked attitude in favour of abstaining from drinking when driving, rather than restricting their alcohol consumption, findings since then have indicated a trend towards a more even distribution across these two behaviour traits - back to the Wave 6 (1993) figure. The proportion of licence holders who never drink has remained unchanged at one in twenty for at least the past four years.
  • Use of self-operated breath testing machines in a pub or club in the last six months is still uncommon among drivers, at only 8%. However, nearly six in ten licence holders in Wave 10 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. This represents a growing interest in the concept, the greatest enthusiasm displayed by young female licence holders.
  • A new question in Wave 10 investigated support for extension of a zero blood alcohol limit to all drivers. Four in ten support this initiative, among whom a quarter exhibit strong approval. There is currently opposition to this idea among half of the community.
  • A reasonable level of knowledge of recommended alcohol consumption guidelines is again evident in Wave 10, particularly among those who drink when driving. Most people state the first hour guideline within one drink and correctly state just one per hour thereafter. Females are less likely than males to be aware of these guidelines though they do tend to give more conservative responses.
  • Most beer drinkers display a reasonable, though less than perfect, 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, still tend to under-estimate the number of standard drinks in a bottle of wine, two thirds nominating six standard drinks or less.

This document describes the research that was conducted and provides a more detailed analysis of the results for Wave 10. 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: 01/09/97