This is the fourteenth in a series of annual surveys of community attitudes and perceptions towards a range of road safety issues. Findings from this 2001 Community Attitudes Survey (CAS 14) were derived from telephone interviews with a national sample of 1,550 Australian residents aged 15 years and over. A summary of the main findings from the 2001 survey, along with a description of emerging trends and patterns, is provided below. More detailed results are provided in the main body of this report.
The results from the current survey provide a snapshot of community perceptions across a range of road safety issues, and data from past surveys provide a view of changes in community attitudes over time.
1.1. Main Trends and Comparisons—Overall
The Australian community continues to identify speed as the single most likely cause of road crashes. When asked to nominate the main factor that leads to road crashes, 37% say speed, almost three times the number that say driver fatigue (13%) or drink driving (12%). When asked to name three crash factors, over half the community include speed (59%) and drink driving (52%) in their list, and one in three include driver fatigue (33%).
This survey reveals a growing awareness of the dangers of speeding and increasing evidence of a shift in attitudes across a range of speed-related behaviours. The community appears to be moving towards a more responsible attitude to speed, and there is a decline in the level of extreme attitudes to speed, across a range of areas.
Nine out of ten licence holders recognise that increasing speed greatly increases crash severity, agreeing that ‘An accident at 70 km/h will be a lot more severe than an accident at 60km/h’ (90%). Two out of three (67%) are aware of the link between speed and crash involvement, agreeing that ‘A 10 km/h increase in driving speed significantly increases the risk of being involved in a crash’.
There is a growing trend in acceptance of initiatives to protect the community from the dangers of speed. Support for a 50 km/h limit in residential areas continues to increase (73%) and close to half (49%) of the community support zero speed tolerance (i.e. strict enforcement of the 60km/h speed limit) in urban streets.
It is also widely accepted (88%) that ‘speed limits are generally set at reasonable levels’. However, one in three (33%) still consider it reasonable to speed, agreeing with the statement that ‘it is okay to speed if you are driving safely’.
Despite this widespread recognition of the risks associated with speeding, the community is less willing to accept the need for speed enforcement, in comparison with its support for drink driving enforcement. Support for random breath testing is almost universal (consistently 96%), while close to six in ten (58%) agree with the statement that ‘fines for speeding are mainly intended to raise revenue’.
This reluctance to endorse speed enforcement may be linked to driver behaviour, with more people admitting to speeding than drink driving. This is most evident when comparing the extremes of speed and drink driving behaviour. The number who say they mostly or always ‘drive at 10 km/h or more over the speed limit’ (11%) is an order of magnitude larger than the number who agree that ‘If I am driving I do not restrict what I drink’ (1%).
The community exhibits a growing recognition of the contribution of driver fatigue to road crashes, with 13% identifying fatigue as the main cause of crashes and one in three (33%) including fatigue in their list of the three main causes of road crashes. Awareness of fatigue as a crash factor is highest (39%) among those aged 25 to 39 years.
A new series of questions introduced in 2001 suggests that our awareness of fatigue as a crash factor is in many cases based on actual experience, with one in seven (14%) of those asked recalling having fallen asleep at the wheel while driving. Among these, a similar proportion (16%) had an accident as a result. Males (20%) are more than twice as likely as females (8%) to have ever fallen asleep at the wheel while driving. Approximately half of all people who have fallen asleep at the wheel (54%) recall doing so just once, mostly on a country trip lasting over two hours.
1.2. State and Territory Comparisons
The stratified sample adopted in this survey allows comparisons to be made across State and Territory borders. While to a certain extent jurisdictions follow the national trend, the research continues to show significant differences in opinion between States and Territories on major road safety issues of speed, drink driving and fatigue.
Residents of the Northern Territory are still clearly the most likely to mention drink driving as the one main factor leading to road crashes. However, CAS 14 has also shown an increased awareness in the Northern Territory about the effect of speed.
While approval of a 50 km/h limit in residential areas is again expressed by a majority of people in all States and Territories, it remains highest in Victoria (78%), NSW (74%) and Queensland (73%), with a significant increase evident in the ACT (72%). South Australia continues to be among the locations most inclined to agree that fines for speeding are mainly intended to raise revenue.
New South Wales residents (18%) again show the lowest exposure to Random Breath Testing (RBT) in the six months prior to the survey, with Tasmania (22%) and South Australia (23%) also below the national average of 25% in 2001. Closer to one in three in each of the remaining locations report being tested in the past six months.
Fatigue is again most likely to be suggested as a crash cause and at increased levels in the ACT and in Queensland. A significant increase in mentions of fatigue as one of the main crash causes has also occurred in the Northern Territory and Western Australia in 2001.
Residents in the Northern Territory (47%), consistent with their relatively high awareness of the dangers of drink driving, are now more likely than people elsewhere in Australia (37%) to say they do not drink when driving. This is a marked turnaround from CAS 13 when these people were more likely to say they restrict any alcohol intake rather than abstain. A similar trend is evident in South Australia. Northern Territory licence holders who drink express the greatest desire for a self-operated breath testing device, where 53% are ‘very’ likely to use one if available compared to a national average of 34%.
The perception that RBT activity has increased over the past 2 years continues to decline across most States and Territories. South Australian residents most readily express the view that RBT activity has increased (45%). A perception of decreasing RBT activity is again evident most often in NSW, the ACT and Tasmania.
Most people across the States and Territories agree that a BAC of .05 would affect their ability as a pedestrian. A noticeable increase in the percentage of Northern Territory residents expressing this view has been noted in CAS 14. Opinion tends to be divided in Western Australia.
Although still below the national average, Northern Territory residents continue to demonstrate an increasing propensity to wear a rear seat restraint, now at a high of 83%.
1.3. Demographic Comparisons
1.3.1. Age groups
Viewed against historical data this survey continues to reveal a growing awareness among younger sections of the community across a range of road safety issues.
The research clearly shows that age is the main predictor of how frequently drivers exceed the speed limit. However, while the tendency to exceed the speed limit continues to decline with age, the number of under 24 year olds saying they mostly or always do so has declined from 20% to 15% and is now at the same level as the 25-39 years age group.
Speed tends still to be referred to far more often than drink driving as the single main cause of road crashes, regardless of age. The one exception is those under 24 who mention speed and drink driving with similar frequency. Mentions of speed as one of three main crash factors has declined, reflecting a greater focus on the dangers of drink driving among this group.
However, more 15-24 year olds are now showing support for strict adherence to the limit in a 60 km/h zone, and while similar numbers support 65 km/h, the number tolerating 70 km/h in a 60 km/h zone has halved. Traditionally, tolerance of speeds in excess of 60 km/h could be seen to decline with age. In this survey speed tolerance is broadly similar across the 15-60 year group, then drops markedly, with 60% of those over 60 years favouring strict enforcement. A similar pattern emerges in relation to speed tolerance in 100 km/h zones.
While approval for RBT remains high across the age groups, over one in ten males aged 15-24 years disagree with it. This youngest age group continues to be the most inclined to feel that RBT levels have increased. Claimed exposure to RBT is highest among this age group, which is also the most inclined to say a BAC of .05 will affect their ability as a pedestrian. This youngest age group is most likely to say ‘I don’t drink if driving’ (48% compared with a national average of 37%), and remains the most interested in the use of self-operated breath testing machines. Some 22% of the 15-24 years age group (up from 14% in CAS 13) have used such a device in the past six months.
CAS 14 has shown an increasing awareness of fatigue as a key crash factor, among people under 40 years, from 36% in CAS 13 to 43%, against a national average of 33%.
1.3.2. Male : Female
Both gender continue to refer to speed far more often than drink driving as the one main road crash cause, particularly females (41% compared with 32% of males). When all mentions of crash causes are considered, females (57%) are more conscious than males (48%) of drink driving.
There has been an increase in the number of males in favour of strict enforcement of the 60 km/h limit, to a point where females are now only marginally more likely to express this view. However, females are more in favour than males of strict enforcement in 100 km/h zones. Support for 50 km/h zones has gradually increased over the survey periods; males and females are equally likely to agree with this initiative.
More males than females believe ‘it is okay to exceed the speed limit if you are driving safely’ and that ‘fines for speeding are mainly intended to raise revenue’. Males still report a higher tendency than females to exceed the speed limit by 10 km/h or more, although at a reduced margin.
CAS 14 again shows males (22%) are also more likely than females (16%) to have been booked for speeding in the last two years. By age, the under 24s (28%) are the most likely to have been booked for speeding in the past two years, against a national average of 19%.
Females continue to be more likely than males to express ‘strong’ support for RBT and the gap in opinion appears to be widening. CAS 14 has shown a return to the situation where males notice police RBT activity more often than females(75%:65%).
Females who have held a driver’s licence are significantly more likely than males to say they do not drink at any time (23% of females, 15% of males). Female licence holders (41%) are also more inclined than males (33%) to say that they do not drink when driving.
Males are still more likely than females to be aware of the correct guidelines for alcohol consumption by their sex, particularly for the first hour. However, CAS 14 has shown an increase in the number of females aware of their guideline of up to one standard drink in the first hour. Females are more inclined to express interest in the use of self-operated breath testing machines.
Females (58%) are again significantly more likely than males (47%) to believe that having a BAC over .05 would affect their ability to act safely as a pedestrian.
Males (20%) are more than twice as likely as females (8%) to have ever fallen asleep at the wheel while driving.
1.3.3. City : Rural
While speed and drink driving continue to be nominated as crash causes by similar proportions in both capital cities and non-capital locations, a higher awareness of fatigue is again evident among the non-metropolitan community. Overall, 42% of the nonmetropolitan community mention fatigue as a crash cause, against 27% in the cities.
Consistent with previous years, though again at lower levels, non-metropolitan residents (37%) are more likely than those residing in the cities (32%) to believe RBT activity has increased. Increased occupant restraint enforcement continues to have been noticed more often in regional rather than city locations.
People living outside the cities (54%) continue to be more likely than city-based people (46%) to support strict enforcement of the 60 km/h zones in urban areas, at similar levels to CAS 13.
The likelihood of always wearing an occupant restraint in the front remains marginally higher in the cities (97%) than elsewhere (95%). There has been a decrease since CAS 13 in the likelihood of always wearing a rear seat belt among city residents, from 91% to 88%, to a point where the incidence is now very similar to non-metropolitan areas (87%).
1.4. Summary of CAS 14 (2001) Findings
1.4.1. Factors Contributing to Road Crashes
Over half the community include speed (59%) and drink driving (52%) in their top three list of road crash causes. Driver fatigue (33%) is the third most often-mentioned factor, followed by lack of concentration (23%).
1.4.2. Alcohol and Drink Driving
Over half the Australian community (52%) place drink driving in their top three list of factors contributing to crashes on our roads. Females and young people (15-24 years) are the most conscious of drink driving when all mentions of crash causes are considered.
Random breath testing still has almost universal support (96%).
Close to one in four people (37%) spontaneously identify vehicle speed as the single most likely cause of road crashes. Speed is at least three times more likely than drink driving to be considered the principal reason behind road crashes.
The community continues to display a high degree of recognition of the dangers of speed and is generally supportive of speed enforcement initiatives. A high 90% agree that an accident at 70 km/h would make a crash more severe than one at 60 km/h, and 67% support the proposition that an extra 10 km/h will significantly increase the risk of being involved in a crash.
Some 88% agree that "speed limits are generally set at reasonable levels". In a 60 km/h zone, close to half (49%) still favour strict enforcement of the speed limit and a further 37% tolerate only a 5 km/h excess over the limit. Over seven in ten (73%) now support the lowering of the speed limit to 50 km/h in these areas, continuing a growing trend in approval for this measure.
In 100 km/h zones, 34% favour strict enforcement of the speed limit and 54% would permit up to 10 km/h over the limit before being booked.
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 still believe it already exists in their State or Territory. A high 86% approve of it. All age groups give their support, with approval gaining further strength as age increases.
1.4.5. Occupant Restraints
Consistent with previous years, there is close to a universal claim of ‘always’ wearing a seat belt in the front seat of a vehicle (96%). Fewer people (87%) say they always wear a belt in the rear seat, although recent years have shown an increasing trend in rear seat belt use.
An increase in rear seat belt wearing is evident in most locations, with the largest improvement again in the Northern Territory, which has typically had the lowest rate. CAS 13 saw an increase from 65% to 77%, with CAS 14 now recording a similar increase to 83% in the Territory.
Reported use of a seat belt in the front seat at all times is similar for males and females. Females (90%) are still more likely than males (85%) to wear a restraint in the rear of the car.
1.4.6. Motorcycle Riding
Some 7% of Australians say that they have ridden a motorcycle on the road in the last year, males again accounting for the highest incidence (12%). A slightly higher 9% have been a passenger on a motorcycle in the past year.
1.4.7. Involvement in Road Crashes
Involvement in a road crash in the past three years has remained at 18% of the Australian community aged 15 years and over.
The likelihood of experiencing a recent road crash declines with age, from 26% among the 15-24 age group to 10% among people over 60 years.
1.4.8. Driver Fatigue
Overall, 14% of the community have ever fallen asleep when driving. Males (20%) are more than twice as likely as females (8%) to have done so. The 25-39 year age group (19%) is the most likely to have experienced this situation and the 15-24 age group (7%) are the least likely.
Only 12% of the most recent episodes of falling asleep at the wheel have occurred in the past six months. Three in five of these events occurred at least six years ago.
The following pages describe the research that was carried out for CAS 14 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.
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