3 Driver and Driving Characteristics

3 Driver and Driving Characteristics

A total of 15 people were recruited to take part in the research, answering questions relating to their driving experience and the illegal driving behaviours they engaged in. This chapter outlines their responses and also reports on participants' understanding of what constitutes illegal driving.


3.1 A total of 15 people took part in the research, seven males and eight females. While previous research has shown that males are more likely to self-report illegal driving behaviours, and official statistics show that males are more likely to be charged or convicted of road traffic offences, the small-scale qualitative nature of the work meant that the driving behaviours, rather than gender, were used as the main criteria for recruitment.

3.2 The average age of participants was 41, ranging from 18 to 62. Around half the participants had young children who regularly travelled as passengers in their vehicles and three participants reported caring responsibilities for older relatives.

3.3 All but one of the female respondents were in part-time employment, with only one female not working. Four of the male participants were in full-time employment and one was in part-time employment. Only one male participant was out of work and one was retired. All participants lived in their own accommodation and drove their own privately-owned vehicles. One male driver reported that he drove both a car and motorcycle.

Driving Experience

3.4 The average number of years driving experience was 24, ranging from less than one year to 45 years.

3.5 Most people reported driving between 8,000-12,000 miles a year on average, and for all this included a mix of local trips made on minor roads, as well as longer journeys using motorways and dual carriageways. Only one driver reported driving well in excess of this mileage per year (around 40,000 miles), and he was also the most prolific offender in terms of the range of illegal behaviours that he engaged in and the frequency with which they were adopted. For around two-thirds of respondents, trips were made outside Scotland to England and Wales but all drivers reported that most of their driving took place in Scotland.

3.6 All those who worked reported using their car for travel to/from work, as well as for social/recreational purposes. People tended to drive alone for work-related journeys throughout the week, and travelled mainly with friends and family at the weekends and in the evenings. There were no obvious relationships between the 'types' of trips people were making and the illegal behaviours reported.

Reported Illegal Driving Behaviours

3.7 All participants were asked which, from a list of ten pre-defined illegal behaviours, they had engaged in over the previous 12 months, as part of the recruitment process. For each behaviour reported, they were also asked how frequently they engaged in this type of activity, in broad terms.

Nature and Prevalence

3.8 Table 3.1 shows the number of respondents who reported that they had carried out each behaviour, at least once, in the previous 12 months, and those who said they did each behaviour regularly, for the whole sample. Appendix D provides a breakdown for individual respondents. Behaviours were reported either during recruitment or subsequently, during interviews, for all of those who took part. In five cases, participants disclosed more and different illegal behaviours once at the interviews, compared to those reported during recruitment.

Table 3.1 Nature and prevalence of illegal behaviours reported
Behaviour At least once Regularly All
Driving at more than 75 mph on the motorway 2 12 14
Driving at more than 35 mph in a 30 mph speed limit area 4 4 8
Driving at more than 10% over the speed limit on any other kind of road (for example, more than 55 mph in a 50 mph speed limit area) 2 8 10
Used a mobile phone to text whilst driving - 6 6
Used a hand-held mobile phone while driving - 6 6
Not used a seatbelt while travelling in the front of a car 3 3 6
Not used a seatbelt when travelling in the back of a car or taxi when one was available - 10 10
Driven when over the legal alcohol limit 2 1 3
Driven under the influence of drugs 1 2 3
Other illegal driving behaviour 2 - 2

3.9 The main offence reported by all drivers was speeding on a regular basis on at least one type of road. All but one participant reported driving at more than 75 mph on the motorway, and most said that this was a regular behaviour. Ten people also reported driving at more than 10% over the speed limit on any other kind of road (excluding 30 mph areas) and, again, this behaviour was performed quite frequently among those who admitted to it.

3.10 Fewer respondents said that they would drive over the speed limit in designated 30 mph zones, but this was still reported by just over half of respondents. Half said that they would do it regularly, and half reported having done it less often.

3.11 Six participants reported that they had used mobile phones to make and receive telephone calls whilst driving. Six participants also said that they used their mobile phones for texting, and for checking emails when driving. Four of these respondents were the same (i.e. reported using their phone for both texting and calling). Whether used for talking or texting, those who reported these behaviours said that they did it regularly and were 'prolific' users of their devices both while driving and not.

3.12 None admitted to using their phones to access social networking sites while driving, although two males said that they used their phones to occasionally access emails when in the car. One participant explained that, on occasion, she used her phone for satellite navigation.

3.13 Six respondents reported not wearing a seatbelt in the front of the car, as either the driver or passenger. Ten people said that they often did not wear a seatbelt when travelling in the back of a car or taxi, even when one was available. All of those who reported non-use of rear seat restraints said this was their 'normal', regular behaviour.

3.14 Three respondents, all male, reported having driven when over the legal alcohol limit. Two said that this was 'rare' or infrequent behaviour, whilst one said that he did so more regularly. Two of these same males also reported regularly driving under the influence of illicit drugs and one female said that she had driven once in the last six months after taking drugs. While the number of people reporting these behaviours was small, it is important to note the potential under-reporting that may have been present either due to social desirability bias or fear of repercussions from disclosure (despite assurances of anonymity and confidentiality being offered). Although, as a qualitative exercise, the work did not seek to be representative, it is also worth observing that the four people who did report these behaviours demonstrates a greater than proportionate representation of people admitting to such behaviour from large-scale surveys.

3.15 Frequent drink and drug driving were the only two behaviours reported solely by men (with one woman admitting using drugs only once). All other types of behaviours were reported with equal frequency by men and women.

3.16 One professional male who reported regular speeding on all types of roads, used his phone for texting and talking while driving, sometimes driving under the influence of alcohol and sometimes failing to wear restraints in either the front or rear of the car also said that he was sometimes guilty of traffic light offences.

3.17 Interestingly, when participants were asked to recall recent journeys during which they had carried out illegal driving, none had any difficulty and most could think of journeys within the last month, or more recently. Some even reported that they had had to break the speed limit in order to attend the research interview, because they were "running late". Such flippancy may in itself be indicative of the lack of seriousness with which some participants considered their own illegal driving.

Combinations of Illegal Behaviours

3.18 The focus of the research was on engaging with people who reported carrying out multiple illegal activities over time. Further, the work sought to explore which combinations of behaviours people engaged in.

3.19 All but two of those interviewed combined at least one kind of speeding behaviour with one or more other type of illegal behaviour, if not as part of the same journey, then over time5.

3.20 The most common combination of illegal behaviours reported during the same journeys were speeding (usually either on the motorway/dual carriageway) and use of mobile phones for receiving calls or texting. This was not unanimous, however, and some people reported they would deliberately not text or phone in busy traffic conditions.

3.21 Three participants reported that they would often drive without front seatbelts for local journeys and that this may coincide with times when they also used their telephones. Two other participants said that they would sometimes 'forget' to wear their seatbelts and may have driven over the speed limit whilst not being safely restrained.

3.22 Two participants reported driving while intoxicated and concurrently speeding or using their phone. Use of drugs and alcohol together whilst driving was reported by only one male driver.

3.23 One respondent reported that he would often combine more than two different illegal behaviours regularly whilst driving:

"I have 'multi-tasked' with some of these things. Would you like examples? So, I have driven over the speed limit and used [my phone] to text or phone at the same time, possibly while under the influence of alcohol and drugs. So, yes, all four together in some instance. I have 'mixed and matched.'" [Male, 29]

3.24 One other driver reported that, although he did not engage in multiple illegal activities as part of the same journey very often, he had covered almost all of the listed behaviours at least once within the previous year. A different male ticked all but two different 'illegal driving behaviour' boxes.

Understanding What Constitutes Illegal Driving

3.25 While most people readily admitted they knew that what they were doing was wrong, there were some areas of confusion that seemed to be present among some of the participants. In particular, two people said that they were unaware that it was illegal to not wear rear seatbelts in private cars and, as a consequence, reported that they did this more often than not, as well as allowing their passengers to do the same:

"I've never, ever thought about using a seatbelt in the back of a car and… I've never, ever told somebody to put a seatbelt on in the back of a car. I suppose I just think that it's less likely that something is going to go wrong for the person in the back of the car, if they haven't got a seatbelt on. I wouldn't consider that as illegal. And, is it?" [Female, 62]

3.26 Several respondents said they were unsure if wearing a seatbelt in the rear of a taxi was illegal and one respondent said they would not consider wearing a seatbelt in the front of a taxi, since they considered it akin to other forms of public transport, e.g. a bus:

"I would never wear a seatbelt in a taxi. Not even in the front. I don't know why.… You notice taxi drivers sometimes don't wear seatbelts. Are they supposed to wear seatbelts? I just wouldn't get into a taxi and put a seatbelt on - I'd feel a bit of an idiot if I done that…You wouldn't get on a bus like that and put a seatbelt on." [Female, 29]

3.27 Several respondents also expressed some confusion about what constituted illegal use of mobile phones while driving, for example, whether this included hands-free talking, hand-held talking and/or texting when stopped at traffic lights, in slow moving traffic or if pulled into the side of the road, etc.

3.28 Finally, some people also reported not really knowing what the drink drive limits were, or whether there were defined rules about types and levels of illicit drug use that were acceptable when driving, and so tended to use their own discretion (seemingly on perceived self-efficacy - i.e. how they felt - rather than legal levels) when making these decisions to drive under the influence. All three of the male participants who reported driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs also admitted they were not sure of what the legal limits were and if, in some cases, they would be legally over, or under, the limit (although the amounts of alcohol that were disclosed during interviews would suggest they were very often very much above the legal limits). The main justification for deciding to still drive among all three was the fact that they "felt fine".

The only offence reported by all drivers was speeding on a regular basis. Other frequently cited illegal driving behaviours were using mobile phones whilst driving to make and receive telephone calls, for texting, and for checking emails, and not wearing a seatbelt in the front of the car, as either the driver or passenger. A less frequently cited behaviour was driving when over the legal alcohol limit or when under the influence of illicit drugs. Most participants combined at least one kind of speeding behaviour with one or more other type of illegal behaviour, if not as part of the same journey, then over time.