1. Introduction

1. Introduction


1.1 This report presents the findings from a qualitative study of prolific illegal driving behaviour, based on a number of depth interviews carried out with a segment of current car drivers living in Scotland.

1.2 The work was intended to build on previous quantitative research evidence that has indicated that there is a 'hard core' of prolific non-compliant drivers on Scotland's roads, and across the UK more generally. Previous work has shown that, while there are quite high levels of reported risky and illegal driving behaviours in the driving community more generally, some behaviours are more common than others and it is only a small group who are prolific in engaging in many different types of illegal and dangerous driving. Most of the existing evidence has been derived from self-report surveys and the current work sought to add depth to current understanding of what characterises this group of offenders, what motivates their behaviour and how they may be persuaded to change their illegal driving practices in the future.

1.3 The research was commissioned on behalf of Road Safety Scotland, part of Transport Scotland.

Research Aims

1.4 The main aim of the research was to better understand the attitudes and behaviour of the group of drivers who engage in multiple non-compliant and illegal driving behaviours.

1.5 Additionally, the research sought to gain insight into what triggers may reduce future illegal driving behaviour by considering what people perceived was the most likely, and the worst, potential outcome of their behaviours, as well as how complacency regarding illegal driving may be tackled.

1.6 The ultimate aim of the research was to produce data that might be used to inform future policy development and social marketing campaigns in the road safety arena.

Policy Context

1.7 In 2009, the Scottish Government published Scotland's Road Safety Framework to 2020, Go Safe on Scotland's Roads it's Everyone's Responsibility1. The implementation and delivery of the Framework is overseen by Transport Scotland, working with a number of road safety partners throughout Scotland. The Framework included the first ever Scottish road safety targets set by Scottish Ministers for the next decade (based on a 2004-2008 average) which commenced on 1 January 2011. Table 1.1 shows the targets, as set out in the framework.

Table 1.1 Scottish road safety targets to 2020, with milestones at 2015
Scottish national road safety targets 2011-2020
Target 2015 milestone
% reduction
2020 target
% reduction
People killed 30 40
People seriously injured 43 55
Children (aged <16) killed 35 50
Children (aged <16) seriously injured 50 65

1.8 The specific priorities outlined in the Framework include drink driving, children, seatbelts, drivers aged 17-25, speed, rural roads, leadership and sharing intelligence and good practice. Priorities are based on evidence built up over a number of years on what needs to be tackled in order to achieve the Scottish road safety targets, and the current work sought to contribute to that evidence base to help further understand what can be done to directly influence the driving behaviours of those in the most dangerous groups.


1.9 A qualitative, face-to-face, depth interview approach was used for engaging with prolific illegal drivers.

1.10 This involved the recruitment of 15 independent participants from across Scotland using a free-find approach2. People were approached in their local communities and asked a number of screening questions, principally around whether or not they had engaged in a pre-determined list of illegal driving behaviours in the previous twelve months. Only those who were current car drivers, and who reported committing at least three different types of driving offence in the last 12 months were eligible for inclusion in the work. No age or gender quotas were imposed, although the research team sought to achieve as broad a mix as possible in demographic terms.

1.11 In order to try and maximise differences in driving experience as determined by geography, the recruitment had a wide geographic reach, and covered people recruited from Glasgow, Dundee and Paisley (urban) and Stonehaven, Eyemouth and Dunbar (rural) areas. All participants agreed to be interviewed at neutral venues, close to their homes, and interviews lasted around one hour.

1.12 In each of three case study areas, on-street recruitment was used to target drivers who would be prepared to take part in an interview. This involved a fieldworker approaching adults and carrying out a short screening exercise to ascertain their self-reported illegal driving behaviours. The screening was based upon questions from the Road Safety Tracking Survey (RITS) survey.

1.13 An interview guide was developed which allowed for free recall of previous illegal driving incidents, along with more structured questioning around drivers' attitudes and behaviours, and recall and perceived impact of previous road safety marketing campaigns. A 'story-telling' approach was used in the first instance, in which participants were asked to recall and describe in a step-by-step way a recent journey in which they had committed illegal driving behaviours, either singly or combined. This was largely unprompted and was followed by more structured questioning of the reasoning and potential motivators for those behaviours.

1.14 The topic guide was piloted in October 2012, and interviews took place throughout November and December 2012. All were digitally recorded and later transcribed in order to facilitate the analysis that is presented here. A copy of the interview guide is attached as Appendix A.

1.15 Interview data was analysed manually to identify emergent themes. This involved extrapolating the main sentiments expressed by each respondent, including verbatim quotes, and subsequent assimilation of data with similar sentiments being clustered together for presentation and contrasting views extracted for separate presentation.

Research Ethics

1.16 The methodology was underpinned by a keen awareness of the need to uphold confidentiality of any data collected, as well as to ensure that informed consent was received from all research participants with anonymity assured in all reporting. All participants were asked to provide verbal consent ahead of interviews, and were informed that they could withdraw from the research at any time. Information about the purpose and nature of the research was given to participants ahead of the interview meetings, bolstered by information imparted by the researchers on the day.

1.17 The recruitment and sampling approach employed did not preclude anyone from taking part in the research on the grounds of their protected characteristics status, and the main stipulation was that participants were current drivers who were prepared to self-report multiple illegal driving. All meetings took place in mutually convenient public venues, with reasonable travel and expenses reimbursed. Participants were also offered an opportunity to nominate an approved charity to receive a cash donation as a means of incentivising them to take part and to thank them for their time. All fifteen participants accepted this offer.

1.18 All personal data was confidentially destroyed after the interviews and responses were anonymised using unique identifiers. All data was edited to ensure that it contained no material which would make respondents identifiable during reporting.

Research Caveats

1.19 Although the research sought to add weight to, and complement, self-reported quantitative survey data, it must be recognised that the approach used here was again reliant on self-reported behaviours and so was still vulnerable to respondent bias. This may have included, for example, people under or over-exaggerating their involvement in illegal driving behaviours (to come across as socially compliant or rebellious, for example), and potentially some acquiescence among participants in terms of reporting behaviours or reasons for their behaviours that they perceived were expected.

1.20 Further, despite assurances of anonymity and confidentiality for those taking part in the work, the nature of the research and the requirement to self-disclose illegal behaviours may have been a deterrent to participation for many otherwise eligible respondents. Self-selection bias is evident in the sample, insofar as only those who felt confident and comfortable discussing their illegal behaviours took part, and this may account, in some cases, for the apparent nonchalance with which some sentiments were delivered.

1.21 During the recruitment, more females than males agreed to take part in the work despite equal numbers of men and women who were approached being eligible. Some of this may, in part, be accounted for by the fact that more men than women were in full time employment and their availability for interview was more limited. Although flexible days and times were offered for interviews to take place, men (especially young men) were, overall, less willing to be interviewed. This is not uncommon for research that uses recruitment methods such as those used here, and overall, young men did make up 20% of the final sample which meant that their perspective was still covered in equal (if not proportionate) part.

1.22 More generally, it is worth stressing that, as a qualitative exercise, the work did not seek to be representative of the full driving community. Further, due to the sampling approach used, the findings presented here cannot be considered as representative and should not be generalised too widely.

1.23 Finally, it is worth noting that alternative recruitment strategies were considered, including recruitment of known offenders (with driving offences recorded by the police). This, however, was not possible for practical reasons and so the actual reported previous conviction information obtained from all those who took part was also based on self-disclosure. Again, this may be an under or over-representation of actual previous conviction histories and so any attempts to link findings that relate to being caught, with current reported driving behaviours and attitudes must be interpreted with care.