CR 183: Drink Driving Offenders in a Rural Community: A Profile of Drink Driving Offenders in Regional Queensland (1999)

Drink driving remains a major health and economic problem for industrialised countries. Interventions and strategies developed for rehabilitation of drink drivers need to target the specific needs of this subgroup within the population.

Much work in this area has been conducted in United States and European jurisdictions in which the legal climate governing drink driving and its punishment differs from the rural Queensland perspective. This report presents a profile of drink driving offenders from the Central Queensland region. It establishes base-line data on socio-demographic and lifestyle characteristics, and measures of knowledge, attitudes and behaviours. It also provides baseline data for the measurement of the effectiveness of the "Under the Limit" (UTL) drink driving rehabilitation program.

The methodology

Face-to-face interviews were used to assess knowledge, attitudinal and lifestyle factors among drink driving offenders. Offenders who participated in this study were 149 drink drivers appearing before a Central Queensland court on a drink driving charge between January and September 1997. Offenders were interviewed on the day of their court appearance in one of three courthouses located in the intervention region.

The interview schedule included measures identified in the literature as potentially contributing to recidivism. These were:

  • socio-demography of the offender sample including age, gender, marital status, education, employment status, and licence type.
  • hearing outcomes of the offenders drink driving court appearance - suspension periods, fines, other offences heard on the same day, and the BAC reading for the drink driving offence.
  • offenders prior criminal and traffic history
  • questions pertaining to knowledge, attitudes and drink driving behaviours
  • alcohol consumption
  • mental health status, social support and self-esteem

Normative data for the Mental Health and Social Support scales was obtained by surveying a sample of TAFE students from the Central Queensland region.

Because gender is considered to be an important variable in drink driving behaviours, all analyses were examined for gender differences.

Socio-demographic Characteristics of Rural Offenders

Drink driving offenders had a mean age of 31 years, were mostly male and single, with a greater proportion being of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander background than in the regional population. Few offenders were educated beyond the Year 12 standard, with the majority having only completed the junior level of education.

At the time of their interview, the majority (58%) of offenders were employed and many of these were in full-time employment.

Their income distribution was bimodal with peaks at the less than $12,000 and $20,001 to $35,000 income levels. The majority of offenders were in the former income category, with most of those offenders being unemployed and/or on pensions. The latter income group represented the median income for offenders in paid employment.

Most offenders, at the time of their court appearance, were holders of an open licence.

The typology of the rural drink driving offender in Central Queensland is similar to typologies found in other jurisdictions. The rural Australian sample were somewhat more likely to be drawn from the older 25-34 year age group and to be unemployed and receiving a relevant pension.

Hearing Outcomes

Offenders in this study generally had high BAC readings for their current drink driving offence, with over one-third of the sample having a BAC reading above 0.15gm/100ml.

Long licence disqualification periods (mean = 8.8 months) were administered for the drink driving offence with the longest periods being administered to offenders with higher BAC readings.

Offenders who undertook the UTL program as part of their rehabilitation generally had their fine waived or reduced. As a result, fines for this group of offenders were substantially lower than the fines administered to offenders who stayed within the mainstream sentencing procedures.

Traffic and criminal history

Offenders had an extensive history of criminal and traffic offences. Many offenders at the time of their court appearance were also appearing for offences in addition to the drink driving charge, mainly unlicensed or disqualified driving. Approximately one-fifth of the total sample had been charged for drink driving at least once in the 5 years prior to their interview.

One-quarter of offenders had also been charged for criminal offences in the 5 years prior to their interview, mostly "public order" and "offence against property" crimes.


While knowledge of legal BACs was fairly high among offenders, especially with respect to open licensed drivers, knowledge of the number of drinks required to place an individual over this legal limit was quite low.

Inaccurate knowledge of the effects that alcohol has on the body appears quite high and indicates that inaccurate knowledge may be one contributing factor to the level of drink driving by this group.


Some offenders demonstrated deviant attitudes toward drink driving with many believing that drink driving behaviours are common. There was a strong belief that harsher laws against drink driving are not needed.

For many offenders, licence disqualification was considered a reasonable punishment for drink driving offences, while jail terms were seen in a less favourable light.

Although many offenders believed there is no excuse for drink driving, approximately half the sample indicated that they would still drive after consuming enough alcohol to place them over the limit.

Many offenders believed that if they drove while over the limit they would be picked up for drink driving.

Behavioural Intentions

Many offenders indicated that they would adopt new drinking and driving strategies in order to reduce the likelihood of re-offending.

The sample as a whole indicated that "taking a taxi" and "having a driver that does not drink" were the most viable alternatives to drink driving in the future.

The offender sample were least likely to agree to "drink lite beer" and to "avoid shouts".

In general, offenders were more likely to prefer changing their driving habits to changing their drinking habits to avoid future drink driving episodes.

Self-report behaviours

Self-reported alcohol consumption levels within the offender sample were high, with the highest consumption over a weekend period occurring on Fridays and Saturdays.

The level of self-reported drink driving was high with over two-fifths of the sample reporting drink driving more than once in the last 6 months.

Mental Health and Social Support

The level of mental health experienced by offenders in this sample was high but did not differ to normative levels. Social support, as measured by the Social Support Appraisals Scale, for offenders in this sample was generally high. Male offenders reported receiving more support from friends than males in the normative sample.

Support from family members appeared greater than support from friends or others in the social network of an offender. Self-esteem support and tangible support received by the offender sample were high, but in most cases did not differ from the normative data.

Males in the offender sample were found to have higher self-esteem support than males in the normative sample. Differences in the variables that influence self-esteem support for the offender and normative samples may be the cause of the higher self-esteem support experienced by male offenders. For offenders, Self-esteem Support scores were mostly related to support from others, while for the normative sample, mental health was the most important predictor of self-esteem support. That is, self-esteem support appears to be related to extrinsic sources for offenders and intrinsic sources for the normative sample.

Risk of alcohol problems and readiness to change

The risk of alcohol problems within the offender sample was high with many offenders being at moderate-to-high risk of alcohol problems.

Compared to the regional population, the offender sample was at higher risk of alcohol dependence. Problems with alcohol are a central or defining characteristic of many of these drink driving offenders.

The number of offenders who indicated that they were in the process of changing their drinking habits was similar to the number of offenders who were denying a problem exists.

Many of the offenders who were classified as being most at risk of alcohol dependence were not aware of their alcohol problem and were not taking action to change it.

Type: Research and Analysis Report

Sub Type: Consultant Report

Author(s): Ferguson MR, Schonfeld CC, Sheehan MC

ISBN: 0642 25549 0

ISSN: 0810-770X

Topics: Alcohol, Rural

Publication Date: 01/11/99