CR 179: Women behind the wheel: Driving behaviour and road crash involvement (1998)

The aim of this project was to explore factors associated with risk of road crashes among two groups of women drivers aged 19-24 and 46-51. Subjects were randomly selected from participants in the baseline survey of the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health (the Women’s Health Australia or WHA project), which includes women from all walks of life in all States and Territories of Australia. Original selection for the WHA project was by random sampling from the Health Insurance Commission/Medicare database.

A questionnaire was mailed to 2,700 women in each age group in April 1997. It included questions about: driving patterns; behaviour in relation to social functions where alcohol is served; items from the Driver Behaviour Questionnaire (DBQ); speed-related items from the Driving Style Questionnaire (DSQ); ‘thoroughness’ items from the Decision Making Questionnaire (DMQ); and crash history in the last three years. Completed questionnaires were received from 1621 young women (61%) and 1949 mid-age women (73%), of whom 1425 and 1834 respectively, were drivers. Social and demographic characteristics of the participants were taken from the WHA survey which was conducted one year before the driving survey. Scores for errors and violations (from the Driver Behaviour Questionnaire, DBQ) and speed (from the Driving Style Questionnaire, DSQ) were higher in the young women, who also had higher reported rates of crashes in the last three years (1.87 per 100,000 km) than the mid-age women (0.59 per 100,000 km). The young women drivers were more likely than the mid-age drivers to be ‘at fault’ and were also more likely to report speeding, tailgating and overtaking on the inside lane. The results suggest a picture of young women who are impatient drivers.

In the young women, lapse scores on the DBQ were significantly associated with crashes. These scores were higher in young women who had reported high levels of stress, feeling rushed, higher usual alcohol consumption, and tertiary education in the WHA survey. Young women with fewer years of driving experience, lower life satisfaction scores and those born in non-English speaking countries were also more likely to be involved in crashes.

Among mid-age women, the rate of crashes reported was much lower than among the young women and scores on the DBQ were also low. Mid-age women with higher lapse scores were also more likely to be involved in crashes. Those who reported high levels of stress, being less satisfied with their lives and those with tertiary education were most likely to have higher lapse scores. Women born in non-English speaking countries were also more likely to be involved in a crash.

Overall, the results suggest that crash involvement is related to several factors including feeling stressed and rushed, low life satisfaction, usual alcohol consumption (drink driving itself was not a relevant factor for the young or mid-age group), and being born in a non English speaking country. The crashes reported in this study were predominantly of low severity and some caution should be applied in extrapolating the results to high severity crashes where additional factors may be involved. Nonetheless the findings could be used to inform the development of strategies for reduction of road crashes among women drivers.

First, young women drivers display a number of intentional high-risk behaviours such as speeding, tailgating and overtaking on the inside lane. While there have been some attempts to target young women drivers in media campaigns (e.g. the Federal Office of Road Safety’s ‘Rethink Your Second Drink’ promotion), these campaigns could be refined in light of the study findings, to include some of the high risk behaviours reported by young women. These behaviours might also be the focus of specific enforcement programs. Second, the study also found that women who were stressed or had low satisfaction with their lives were at increased risk of crash involvement. There is a need for further research to consider the mechanism through which lifestyle characteristics are transferred into increased risk and to identify the type of road safety countermeasures that may be appropriate to this issue. Finally, women born overseas had higher rates of crash involvement, approximately twice that of Australian born women. This finding certainly requires further investigation to identify whether this is due to difficulties in transferring driving skills acquired in another country (ie changing from driving on the right hand side of the road to driving on the left hand side), difficulties in acquiring driving skills in Australia, or to other culturally related factors.

Type: Research and Analysis Report

Sub Type: Consultant Report

Author(s): A Dobson, WJ Brown & J Ball

ISBN: 0 642 25531 8

ISSN: 0810-770X

Topics: Behaviour, Gender

Publication Date: 01/05/98