CR 180: Community attitudes to road safety: Community Attitudes Survey Wave 11 (1998)


  • Consistent with previous waves, this latest survey of community attitudes towards road safety issues again shows that speeding, in particular, and drink driving are considered to be the principal factors that lead to crashes. Each of these factors is spontaneously mentioned by more than half of the population as a major reason for road crashes.
  • While both of these factors are clearly the most important, speed still dominates as the one single factor that people mention first when thinking about crash causes. Speed was nominated in Wave 11 by 34% of the community as the single most important cause, more than twice as often as drink driving (14%), followed by lack of concentration (13%) and fatigue (10%).
  • This survey suggests that fatigue has increased in likelihood of being mentioned as a cause of crashes, up from 22% last year to 27% when people were asked to nominate up to three factors.
  • The continuing high degree of awareness by the community that excessive speed leads to road crashes, plus recognition of the dangers of drink driving, carelessness, fatigue and also poor driver attitudes and inexperience, is accompanied by majority acceptance of current speed limits.
  • Overall, Wave 11 suggests that the community is increasingly accepting of current road use regulations and of police enforcement activity. However, a sizeable minority still regularly speed when driving and believe that speed limits should not be strictly enforced.
  • There continues to be strong community support for the introduction of 50 km/hr speed limits in local residential areas.
  • Support this year is even stronger than last year for legislation that requires people to carry their licence at all times when driving a motor vehicle. Overall, a high 87% support this, including 72% saying they strongly approve of it. While such legislation is in force only in New South Wales, most drivers throughout the country believe it already exists in their State or Territory and are in support of it.
  • Consistent with previous years, nearly everyone says they always wear their seat belt in the front seat (96%) and most people (88%) say they wear a belt if in the rear seat.
  • The main topics addressed in detail in this research are speed and drink driving, with smaller sections on occupant restraints, licence carrying legislation plus accident incidence and severity. The findings are reported in depth from Section 6 onwards. A separate summary on speed and drink driving is provided below.

Speed Summary

  • Recognition of speed as a factor leading to road crashes has been at a high level over all of the past measures in this series. While the figures reported in Wave 10 last year were even higher than in Wave 11, the latest findings still confirm the dominance of speed as the factor most likely to cause a road accident. This year, one in three Australians (34%) spontaneously nominated speed as the single main reason for accidents and 57% referred to it as one of the main causes.
  • Wave 11, however, suggests an overall improvement in driver attitude to speed and confirms an increasingly high awareness of its danger. While most people have agreed in previous surveys that "an accident at 70km/hr will be a lot more severe than an accident at 60 km/hr" (83% in Wave 10), the proportion agreeing in Wave 11 has increased to 88%. Similarly, 37% agreed in Wave 10 that "it is okay to speed if driving safely". This year, only 32% agree.
  • Despite that high awareness of the dangers of speed and the fact that nine out of ten people agree that speed limits are set at reasonable levels, close to four in five drivers (77%) still admit to exceeding the speed limit by 10km/hr or more.
  • On the positive side, Wave 11 found less than one in ten (8%) saying they exceed the limit on all or most occasions. That figure has consistently fallen over the course of these surveys. The figure last year was 12%, preceded by 15% in 1996. Consistent with last year, however, one in five drivers have been booked in the past two years for speeding and 6% say they were booked in the past six months.
  • Even though most people do admit to speeding, at least occasionally, half (49%) of the community say they favour strict enforcement of 60 km/hr in urban areas. A further one in three (31%) support a tolerance of 5 km/hr over the existing limit and fewer (15%) would allow 10 km/hr over the existing limit in 60 km/hr areas. These figures continue the trend towards less tolerance by the community for speeding in these zones.
  • Community members over 60 years of age have typically been the most in favour of strict speed limit enforcement. Wave 11 shows increasing support for enforcement of legal limits in the past year from all of the younger age groups.
  • In 100 km/hr zones, six in ten people support tolerance for exceeding the limit though most of those people would restrict it to 10 km/hr above the limit. Just over one person in ten supports a tolerance of more than 10 km/hr. There has been no obvious change in the overall opinion of the community towards enforcing the speed limit in 100 km/hr zones during the three years that this matter has been studied in this research series.
  • Males and younger drivers continue to display the greatest inclination to speed though Wave 11 has identified an attitude improvement among the youngest (under 24 years) age group this year. Wave 11 shows that the younger age group is now no more likely than the 24 to 39 years age group to admit to speeding. The older age groups, in particular people aged over 60, claim much slower speeds on the road than the younger age groups.
  • Most people continue to believe that speed enforcement activity by police is increasing. They also believe that penalties for speeding have increased over the past two years despite the fact that penalties have changed very little in most jurisdictions. Wave 11 examined community knowledge of penalties for exceeding the speed limit by 12 km/hr. Monetary penalties do apply across all States and Territories, from $50 up to $110 for that offence. One demerit point is imposed in all States and Territories, except for the Northern Territory which does not impose demerit points. Most people only mention a fine and they tend to overestimate the amount of the fine for this offence by at least $50. When people are prompted to consider demerit points the number mentioned is often two or more. The findings suggest that most people are guessing the penalties.
  • Six in ten people (62%) support a 50km/hr limit in residential areas. This is an increase over the 55% in Wave 10 supporting this initiative and is back in line with support shown in Wave 9 (1996) and Wave 8 (1995). Fewer people (33%) support a 40km/hr limit; that proportion has increased since last year, from only 24%, but it too is more in line with Wave 9 (31% support) and Wave 8 (30% support).

Alcohol and Drink-Driving Summary

  • Drinking before driving continues to be ranked second to speeding as the single main cause of accidents. The proportion mentioning drink-driving as their first response has remained steady at 14% this year, well under half the figure found for speeding (34%). When up to three factors are sought, over half (54%) of the community refer to this alcohol effect. This finding is similar to previous years and very close to the total mentions of speeding (57%).
  • While speed dominates over drink driving as the one main cause of crashes suggested by the community at large, the 15 to 24 year age group shows a particularly high likelihood this year of referring to the road safety danger arising from alcohol. One in five (21%) among this age group referred to drink driving as the main cause of accidents and 60% mentioned it within their three main reasons. This shows an increase in awareness among young adults of drink driving as a road safety problem, to a point where, unlike older age groups, they blame alcohol even more often than they blame speeding.
  • Support continues to be almost universal for random breath testing (97%). Observation of RBT activity in the past six months remains high, at 70%, and nearly half (44%) feel that the amount of RBT has increased over the past two years. Similar to last year, more RBT activity is noticed in the capital cities (73%) than by people living away from the capitals (66%).
  • One in four drivers (26%) have been tested for RBT in the last six months, representing a steady rise over past years. The increase in RBT activity noticed by the 15 to 24 year age group over recent waves, particularly among the young males, has been sustained in this latest survey.
  • Most licence holders who drink continue to exhibit a responsible approach to drinking and driving. Wave 11 however, suggests that the proportion of women who drink and drive may be increasing (up from 28% last year, to 33%) while the proportion of males who drink and drive may be decreasing (down from 53% last year, to 46%). One in five licence holders (21%) maintain they never drink and over one in three (39%) abstain from any alcohol if driving. The remaining 40% of drivers say they restrict their alcohol intake.
  • Use of self-operated breath testing machines in the last six months remains at just 6% of drivers, principally in the under 25 age group. Interest in using such equipment among people who ever drink and drive peaked in Wave 10 (49%), declining to 45% in Wave 11.
  • The reasonable level of knowledge of alcohol consumption guidelines in Wave 10 stayed at a similar level in Wave 11. Most people state the recommended first hour figure within one glass and correctly state just one drink per hour thereafter. Females are still less likely than males to be aware of the correct guidelines, particularly for the first hour, though they do tend to give more conservative estimates than males.
  • Beer drinkers display a better understanding of the term "standard drink" than wine drinkers. Nearly half the beer drinkers (45%) correctly gave the answer of 11⁄2 standard drinks in a 375ml stubby or can of full strength beer with another 28% giving the more conservative response of two drinks. Wine drinkers tend to understate the number of standard drinks in a 750ml bottle, with seven in ten nominating less than seven drinks.
  • The following pages describe the research that was carried out for Wave 11 and provide a more detailed analysis of the survey findings. Where appropriate, findings are compared with previous waves in this series. Further information can be obtained through the ATSB Road Safety in Canberra.

Type: Research and Analysis Report

Author(s): P Mitchell-Taverner

Topics: Community attitudes

Publication Date: 01/09/98