CR188: Community Attitudes to Road Safety: Community Attitudes Survey Wave 12 (1999)

This is the twelfth in a series of annual surveys of community attitudes and perceptions towards a range of road safety issues. Results of this 1999 Community Attitudes Survey (CAS 12) were derived from telephone interviews with a national sample of 1,600 Australian residents aged 15 years and over. Outlined below is a summary of key findings from the 1999 survey, along with a description of emerging trends and patterns. Detailed results are provided in the main body of the report.

1.1 Main Trends and Comparisons—Overall

Vehicle speed and drink driving are clearly perceived by the Australian community as the dominant factors leading to road crashes. The CAS survey has consistently found that each of these factors is spontaneously mentioned by over half the population as a major crash cause.

Despite this high awareness of the influence of speeding and drink driving, there has been a marked and persistent difference in public attitudes towards enforcement of these issues. For example, whereas support for random breath testing has been almost universal over the life of the survey (currently at 97%), opinions on speed enforcement have been much more divided. This year’s survey shows 56% of the community agree with the proposition that 'fines for speeding are mainly intended to raise revenue' and over a third agree that 'it is okay to exceed the speed limit if you are driving safely.'

While the community clearly views speeding as more socially acceptable than drink driving, there are encouraging indications of a shift in public attitudes. Over the past five years, responses to a range of speed–related questions suggest that people are becoming less permissive of speeding behaviours.

There has been an increasing trend in the number of people who say or agree that:

  • they only speed occasionally or never speed
  • they approve of lowering suburban speed limits to 50 km/hr
  • there should be no tolerance or only a 5 km/hr tolerance for breaking the speed limit in a 60 km/hr zone
  • an extra 10 km/hr will significantly increase crash risk, and
  • in 60 km/hr zones, an extra 10 km/hr will make any crash a lot more severe.

At the same time, there has been a decrease in the number of people who would tolerate speeding at 15 km/hr or above in 100 km/hr zones and in the number of people who believe that it is okay to speed if driving safely.

The research has shown that fatigue is increasingly being recognised as a major contributor to road crashes. Over the last five years, mention of fatigue as one of three main reasons for road crashes has nearly doubled, from 19% in CAS 7 (1993) to 35% in CAS 12 this year.

1.2 State and Territory comparisons

As could be expected, the survey shows that there are significant differences in opinion between some States and Territories on major road safety issues such as speed, fatigue and seat belts.

The Northern Territory is the exception when it comes to nominating speed as the single most likely cause of road crashes. People from the Northern Territory consider drink driving to be a more likely cause of a crash than speed.

On average, 10% of Australians report that they mostly drive 10 km/hr or more above the speed limit. This number rises to 16% in Western Australia. The research shows that breaking the speed limit is reported least in South Australia (4%) and in Tasmania (7%).

Western Australia also provides the highest reported incidence of receiving advanced warning about the location of speed cameras or radar spots. 38% of the people surveyed in Western Australia stated they often receive advanced warning, against a national average of 24%.

Western Australia also shows an increase over the past year, up from 50% to 60%, of people approving the lowering of residential speed limits from 60 km/hr to 50 km/hr. Queensland shows a similarly large increase, from 61% to a high of 71%. It is interesting to note that the South–East Region of Queensland has already introduced many 50 km/hr zones for suburban streets.

After speed and drink driving, fatigue is consistently mentioned as the third most important cause of crashes. People in the Northern Territory, New South Wales and Queensland mention fatigue as one of the three main crash causes at significantly higher levels than the national average.

While the claimed incidence of always wearing a front seat belt is high (95%) throughout the community, the lowest is in the Northern Territory, at 87%. The Northern Territory also shows the lowest incidence of regular rear seat belt wearing, at 65%, compared to the national average of 85%.

1.3 Demographic comparisons

1.3.1 Age groups

The survey clearly shows that age is the main predictor of how frequently drivers exceed the speed limit. Only 4% of drivers aged over 60 say they often exceed the speed limit. The figure rises to 7% of drivers in the 40–59 age group. However, 14% of 25–39 year olds and 19% of the under 24s admit they often exceed the speed limit.

The youngest group surveyed, 15–24 years of age, is more focused on alcohol (66%) as a road safety issue than speed (54%). Also, they are the most likely to say that they don’t drink if they are going to drive (58%), against the average of 40%. People in this age group who do drink remain the most interested in using a self–operated breath testing machine, with 47% saying 'very likely' in comparison to the national average of 28%.

1.3.2 Male : Female

The survey shows a marked difference in attitudes between females and males when it comes to speeding and drink driving.

More females than males place speed as the main cause of road crashes (39% to 31% of males), think that there should be strict enforcement of speed limits for 60 km/hr zones (49% to 39% of males) and for 100 km/hr zones (42% to only 24% of males). Fewer females than males believe it is okay to exceed the speed limit if you are driving safely (27% to 39% of males).

These attitudes may be reflected in the fact that fewer females (16%) than males (25%) said they had been booked for speeding in the last two years. However, the incidence of females being booked has grown from 12% in 1998 to 16% in the 1999 survey.

Females who hold a driver’s licence are significantly more likely than males to say they do not drink at any time (21% of females, 13% of males). A much larger proportion of females (67%) than males (48%) say that they do not drink before they drive. Females surveyed are still less likely than males to be aware of the correct guidelines for alcohol consumption by their sex, particularly for the first hour.

When it comes to being a pedestrian, females (61%), especially in the 15–24 age group (71%), are significantly more likely than males (49%) to think that having a BAC over .05 would affect their ability to act safely as a pedestrian.

1.3.3 City : Rural

There is less difference in attitudes towards road safety between city and rural residents than might have been expected.

Speed, as one of the most often mentioned factors in causing crashes, is mentioned at similar levels in city (57%) and rural (60%) areas, while drink driving is mentioned only marginally more often in rural areas (60%) than in capital city areas (57%).

There is a feeling, however, that RBT activity has increased more in rural areas (50%) than in cities (44%).

Not surprisingly, fatigue is a factor that the rural sector is more conscious about (44% unprompted) than the city residents (30%).

1.4 Summary of 1999 Findings

1.4.1 Factors Contributing to Road Crashes

When nominating up to three crash causes, over half of the community include speed (58%) or drink driving (54%). Speed has a consistently high rate of mention across all States and Territories whereas drink driving shows more variation, for example 49% in New South Wales to 74% in the Northern Territory.

The third factor is fatigue (35%) followed by lack of concentration (25%).

1.4.2 Alcohol and drink driving

Drink driving remains a concern for the Australian community, with 54% mentioning it as one of the three main causes of crashes. However, it is the young people (15–24) who emphasise drink driving the most.

Random breath testing has almost universal support (97%).

1.4.3 Speed

When it comes to nominating the one cause most often leading to road crashes, speed dominates the Australian community’s thinking. At least one in three (35% of those surveyed spontaneously mentioned speeding as the single most likely cause. This is double the next most often mentioned cause, which is drink driving.

All sections of the community maintain favourable attitudes towards speed regulations (87% agreeing that 'speed limits are generally set at reasonable levels' and 65% agreeing that speed limits should be lowered to 50 km/h in residential areas). These positive attitudes extend to awareness of the danger of speeding (65% agree that an extra 10 km/h will significantly increase crash risk and 87% agree that in 60 zones it would make any crash a lot more severe).

A clear majority also have favourable attitudes towards speed enforcement. In a 60km/hr zone, 44% favour strict enforcement of the speed limit and a further 37% would only tolerate a 5km/hr excess over the limit. In 100km/hr zones, 33% favour strict enforcement of the speed limit but 54% would permit up to 10km/hr over the limit before being booked.

Western Australian drivers appear to be the most heavily booked for speeding (37% in the past 2 years, versus the national average of 21%, and 13% in the last 6 months versus the average of 7.5%). However, they are as yet no more likely to have reduced their speed (29% have reduced, versus 27% average) and, along with ACT drivers, are above the 10% average for exceeding the speed limits 'always, nearly always or on most occasions' at 16%.

1.4.4 Compulsory carriage of licence

While legislation requiring people to carry their licence at all times when driving a motor vehicle is in force only in New South Wales, most drivers throughout the country believe it already exists in their State or Territory. 87% approve of it. All age groups give their support, with approval gaining more strength as people get older.

1.4.5 Occupant restraints

Consistent with previous years, 95% of people say they always wear their seat belt in the front seat though somewhat fewer people (85%) say they always wear a belt if in the rear seat.

Males are significantly less likely than females to use their front seat belt all the time.

The Northern Territory has the lowest rate of seat belt wearing in the front or the back.

1.4.6 Motorcycle riding

8% of Australians say that they have ridden a motorcycle on the road in the last year. Males are in the clear majority, with 13% surveyed saying they had ridden in comparison to only 3% of females.

1.4.7 Involvement in road crashes

The survey shows that 18% of the community have been involved in some sort of road crash in the last 3 years.

The 15 to 24 age group are the most likely to have been involved in a road crash, at 30%. The over 60s are by far the least likely, at 7%.

The following pages describe the research that was carried out for CAS 12 and provide a more detailed analysis of the survey findings. Where appropriate, findings are compared with previous surveys in this series. A table of comparisons of findings over time is attached as Appendix II.

Type: Research and Analysis Report

Author(s): P Mitchell-Taverner

ISBN: 0 642 25561 X

ISSN: 0810-770X

Topics: Community attitudes

Publication Date: 01/11/99