5 External Factors Influencing Driving Behaviours

5 External Factors Influencing Driving Behaviours

This chapter explores the perceived influence of other people on participants' illegal driving behaviour, including family, friends or colleagues as well as other drivers. The interaction between illegal driving and structural and situational factors (such as road type and traffic conditions) is also discussed.

Influence of Other People

5.1 While most people defended their driving behaviours in terms of being experienced and 'in control', many did concede that their behaviours were, in some cases, influenced by factors external to themselves. Specifically, the mention of 'peer pressure' arose in two quite contrasting contexts. Firstly, it was referred to in the more conventional sense that 'known others' had encouraged drivers to change their behaviour in particular scenarios (e.g. family, friends or colleagues). Secondly, peer pressure was mentioned in relation to 'unknown others', principally other drivers.

'Known others' - the influence of family, friends or colleagues

5.2 It was reported that the presence of children and spouses in the car made people drive more carefully. Notably, participants who had children explained that their children's presence as passengers meant that they consciously changed their driving behaviours, including driving more slowly and not using their phones whilst driving.

5.3 People who reported not wearing their own seatbelt were (in all but one case) insistent on passengers wearing their seatbelts, and this was especially the case for drivers who regularly transported children. When asked about letting their own or others' children ride in the car without a restraint, this was seen as simply unacceptable and something that drivers would not do. This was despite them saying that, on the same such journey, they themselves may be inclined to start the journey without using their own restraint. Excuses for this included 'distractions' by children and being 'in a hurry' and, therefore, the priority being given to others' safety over one's own.

5.4 The main negative context in which family members were cited as exerting an influence over decisions to drive illegally was where people said that they would almost always answer the telephone while driving, in response to partners or children. This was because they perceived the calls may relate to family emergencies or the need to convey an urgent message:

"Normally, at weekends, my other half is with me…and my kids are with me, so I know it's nothing to do with the kids. So, it's the fact that you might be missing some problem with them when you're on your way to work, whereas at weekends, we tend to all go out as a family so I know it's nothing." [Male, 50]

5.5 While several respondents used this as a defence for their use of mobile phones while driving, it seems that the actual nature of most calls were non-urgent and yet drivers still tended to take the call "just in case".

5.6 Most people interviewed were in employment of some kind, and many referred to colleagues in discussions about what motivated them to drive in the ways that they did. Colleagues (often bosses) were mentioned as making people feel pressure to arrive on time (and thus speed) and to take telephone calls when driving, in order to deal with 'urgent' work-related matters:

"People, you know, they try the office and if they can't get me there, they try the mobile. The phone goes all the time for me…You know, 15 minutes before I reach the office, er, you know, people are expecting you to be available for work even though you've not started and then, when it's past 5pm, they still think you're working when you're actually not. I have a Bluetooth wireless system in the car, and when that connects, I use the phone as hands free. Sometimes, for some reason, it doesn't connect and then [the call] can be work related and then I feel under pressure to use the phone." [Male, 44]

5.7 In none of the interviews was it obvious that people felt under immediate peer pressure to engage in illegal activities from friends in the car or as a result of rejecting pro-social norms in favour of negative sub-cultural norms around driving. Indeed, overall, among those interviewed, it was colleagues rather than family or friends who emerged at the main reference points for discussions around peer pressure. While this will obviously be determined to some extent by the nature of the sample who engaged with the work (including five full-time working males), it does nonetheless suggest that stereotypical views of peer pressure from friends among young drivers to drive illegally are perhaps too narrow. The pool of social associates who influence older drivers' behaviour may go much wider and for many is more work-related than recreationally related.

'Unknown others' - the influence of other drivers

5.8 Interviews revealed that most drivers perceived their own driving to be much safer, and themselves more competent than other drivers. People expressed annoyance at other drivers, particularly in relation to driving too slowly on motorways and dual carriageways, as well as people who 'tailgate' or follow too closely. Where other drivers were seen to exert the most influence over illegal driving, however, was 'forcing' participants to drive faster:

"You're going with the flow. You don't want somebody behind you getting all 'ratty', going 'peep, peep'." [Female, 56]

5.9 Indeed, some people even explained that not speeding, or keeping up with traffic flow, could potentially be dangerous and so this motivated them to follow others:

"You've got to [speed] to keep up with other traffic, to be honest. If you don't, you're gonna cause problems…I think you actually end up as a risk to other users, so there's a pressure to drive at that speed." [Male, 44]

5.10 While 'peer strangers' were not mentioned directly as having an influence over any kinds of driving behaviour other than speeding, it is worth noting that people's observations that most people engaged in illegal driving of some kind (as witnessed on the roads by them) was used as a defence for their driving (as discussed above). The influence of unknown others, therefore, seems to provide drivers with a sense of 'strength in numbers' as well as making them feel justified in driving too fast so as not to become a victim to other people's illegal driving, i.e. if you can't beat them, join them.

5.11 Overall, while 'known others' were more likely to play a part in contributing to drivers' commission of mobile phone offences, 'unknown others' were more likely to play a part in speeding offences.

Structural and Situational Factors

5.12 All drivers demonstrated at least some level of regard for risk and potential dangers on the roads, and a number of key factors emerged as playing a part in people's decisions to break the law, including the 'type' of road, traffic conditions and the time of day people were driving. Familiarity with the roads being used also spanned these categories.

Motorways and dual carriageways

5.13 As discussed above, speeding on motorways was largely accepted by participants with motorways being described as the "safest roads" due to lack of pedestrians, and the good visibility they afforded. More people (14 out of 15) said they regularly drove over the speed limits on these types of roads more than any other road type.

5.14 There was less uniformity either in actual behaviours or attitudes towards use of mobile phones whilst driving in 75 mph areas. For some, driving at speed meant that using their mobile phone was dangerous and for others, using a mobile phone in a built-up area or a more urban road was seen as higher risk:

"If I was on the dual carriageway where you're going at a higher speed, I probably wouldn't take the call. I'd wait for a layby. If it was in town… it's a lower speed, I would consider that less risk." [Female, 62]

"I wouldn't text… if I was just doing wee short journeys, but I would if I was on my way to Edinburgh [on the dual carriageway]." [Female, 29]

5.15 Reasons given for altering the likelihood of answering or not answering the phone on different roads included risks to others as well as risks of being caught:

"I probably wouldn't answer my phone to my ear in any urban area, like Glasgow, or whatever because you're so much more likely to be caught, and I have been [caught]." [Male, 28]

5.16 One of the drug drivers interviewed explained that he too perceived major roads as 'safer' roads on which to drive while intoxicated:

"Basically, being on a dual carriageway as well, it's a very safe type of road. So, basically, in my opinion, being a bit 'stoned' doesn't make you any worse a driver. It might even make you a better driver, 'cause I don't speed when I do it [smoke cannabis]." [Male, 22]

5.17 None of the participants commented on the impact of road type on their likelihood of wearing a seatbelt, or insisting that others did, but it does seem that most journeys made without seatbelts are local journeys.

Urban Areas and the '20's Plenty' Zone

5.18 Almost unanimously, respondents demonstrated a respect and understanding for the need for 20 mph zones in specific areas and the need for compliance with these restrictions:

"If I'm near a school, the risks change. Or, if I'm driving down a road and there's parked cars, then something else happens inside to change the awareness for caution, especially when you know you are distracted….When you go to one of these 20's plenty areas, you do drive at 20 cause I guess that the risk has changed from a normal 30 limit. That does tend to work for me, the 20's plenty." [Male, 44]

5.19 Indeed, the majority of drivers said that their speeding in 30 mph zones was restricted to country roads with these limits, and that they would not drive above 30 in residential or pedestrianized areas, again, due to the presence of vulnerable road users and pedestrians and associated risks of accidents:

"I don't drive fast in a 30 speed limit. Just because of kids and stuff, I'd be terrified that I'd knock somebody down in the streets." [Female, 29]

5.20 In only one case did the respondent express that he felt that such zones sent a wrong message to pedestrians - namely that the responsibility for road safety lay solely with the driver. Instead, he considered, it should be a shared responsibility between the driver and pedestrian:

"I agree with 20 mph [zones] near schools, but when it's a built up area, I disagree with the excuse that people give, "You've got to think of the children." No - why don't the children think of the traffic?" It's always been a 30 and I think the reason they changed it was because of the young drivers speeding, so it's an easy blanket cover. I just think it's a 'knee-jerk' reaction." [Male, 62]

5.21 It should be stressed that this was a minority view and extreme in its presentation compared to all other drivers who were interviewed. There were also no differences either in terms of age or gender in whether respondents said that they would comply with 20 mph limits - all gave the same reasons, i.e. not wanting to endanger the life of children.

Country roads

5.22 One of the main justifications given for driving above the speed limit on country roads was drivers' familiarity with such roads. Several respondents said that they would only drive well beyond the limit on country roads if the road was known to them.

5.23 One participant described his thought processes when making decisions whether or not to answer mobile phone calls while driving, which demonstrated that the nature of the call, followed by the familiarity of the road, were both paramount in his decision whether or not to engage in the activity:

"The first thing I'm thinking is, I look to see who it is and then I try and make a quick decision about, would I hit the answer [button], or else just let it ring? While I'm looking at that, I've got a feeling of where I am, and, as I say, it's usually driving to and from the office, so it's a route I take regularly, and I know the route very well, so I'm quite complacent, I guess. I know where I am, I know what's coming, what the bends are, the hazards on the roads." [Male, 44]

5.24 Indeed, a common theme among people who reported speeding on rural and minor roads was that familiarity with the roads made them feel confident they could predict any potential dangers (of accidents or being caught):

"I know that my reactions aren't quick enough to 'hare' along country roads that I don't know, because, I mean, I'm very aware that you can have a sudden 90 degree turn with no sign in some of the smaller roads, and also, if someone is coming around at the same kind of speed it would be suicide really…It's only roads that I know." [Male, 50]

5.25 Respondents who lived on the outskirts of a town and who used rural roads to make journeys between connecting towns/villages also said that they felt some 30 and 40 mph restrictions were not warranted, especially 'after dark' or during hours where there was likely to be little or no pedestrian traffic or other cars on the roads. If people were familiar with the country road, and knew they were likely to be one of the only users at any given time, they saw no problems with driving beyond the speed limit. When describing country roads that were regularly used, people also explained they felt that 'straight stretches' of such roads did not pose any dangers and so felt justified in speeding, so long as the visibility was good.

5.26 Views on use of mobile phones on country roads were mixed - some people would do it and others would not:

"If it was a windy, country lane, I wouldn't because I couldn't take my hands off the wheel to pick up the phone and answer it." [Male, 50]

"But, when I'm in the 'sticks', and there's not even any other cars on the road, then I'm gonna answer my phone, especially as it is always work that phones me. That's the only time I hold the phone to my ear." [Male, 28]

5.27 Only one driver (who self-reported regular drug driving) explained that they occasionally drove dangerously on country roads for the 'thrill' of it:

"There's a couple of times when, driving on the back roads, sometimes you do like to go round the corners quite fast. 'Cause that is fun. But the last time I did that, I nearly took it too far, and I nearly hit the sign board." [Male, 22]

5.28 The fact that this type of behaviour had never previously resulted in an accident for this driver meant he did not perceive it to be overly dangerous. The same driver also felt that the chances of being caught for speeding on these types of roads were slim, but he did recognise that being charged with dangerous driving was a possibility:

"The police aren't likely to be on the country roads, 'cause the limit there is 60 and you can't really speed 'cause they're too windy anyway. You'd only get stopped for dangerous driving" [Male, 22]

5.29 The low risk of being caught on country roads was also raised by a repeat texter who explained that:

"Because of where I work, it's quite remote, and so I do generally answer the phone because the likelihood of getting caught on country roads is slim to none. And it [the call]…could be important." [Male, 28]

5.30 When considering risks of accidents, the same respondent described how he would answer telephone calls whilst driving on country roads, rather than stopping because he perceived this was less dangerous:

"People don't really stop on country roads. That's not what you do. And that could potentially cause more confusion and more accidents, if I randomly stopped on the side of the road [to take a call]." [Male, 28]

5.31 Another young female driver living in a rural area described a general acceptance among her and her peers that there was also a low risk of being caught on rural roads:

"Around here [rural borders], there's never anybody out. The police are usually too busy drinking tea." [Female, 18]

5.32 One other male explained how, at night, he felt safer on country roads because of the improved forewarning of oncoming traffic:

"I do travel through some of the smaller country roads to get to work and it depends if I'm running a bit late or not on whether I put the foot down. [And] because it's been darker in the mornings and at night-times, I feel as if you can go faster because you can see the lights coming round corners - you can see the other cars. Whereas, when it's lighter, you tend not to go quite as fast because you only see the car when it's there, when you see it." [Male, 50]

5.33 Speeders on country roads also often used the absence of pedestrians as a reason for not needing to stick to speed limits on such roads:

"If you're in a 30, there's gonna be pavements about and pedestrians, usually. If it's anywhere else…in the country, back roads, nobody is really out and about walking. Whereas, near a school, there's obviously children, and you really don't want to hit a child." [Male, 22]

5.34 Such sentiments again were often accompanied by direct comparisons with the 20's plenty zones or restrictions around schools, which people all respected. Such areas, it seems, tend to police themselves whereas country roads, where drivers were less visible to others (including the police), were generally seen as being open to discretionary driving.

Traffic conditions

5.35 A number of respondents reported that they were more likely to break the law (especially in relation to speeding) at times when they perceived the roads were quieter and there was marginal risk to others as well as slim chances of being caught:

"I probably made a judgement that, at this time of day, and because I was running so late, it was okay to push the speed limit…Because there were no other cars on the road at the time, I guess, the deterrent of being caught wasn't really significant for me." [Female, 41]

5.36 This is interesting because other drivers described how, if the roads were quieter, they would feel less pressure to drive fast or keep up with others and so would be more inclined to stick to prescribed limits:

"To be honest, if the road was clear in the morning, I would just drive at the speed limit. But the road isn't clear. So, I guess, if I set out an hour earlier…I could do the speed limit, and there wouldn't be any pressure." [Male, 44]

5.37 Road 'quietness' seems to be a reason for speeding for some particiapnts, perhaps as a justification for their actions:

"You don't have an impression of the speed you're doing when the road is quiet. And then, when you're in with a lot of traffic, you 'go with the flow'. I know that's not really an excuse, but that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it." [Female, 56]

5.38 Again, some respondents suggested that they felt it was safer to 'drive to the traffic conditions' than to stick within pre-specified legal limits and, as such, this was often voiced as an excuse for speeding:

"I think the speed limits are more of a 'guide' really… You drive, basically, as fast as you think you should. You drive to road conditions." [Male, 22]

5.39 Again, such views do indicate that the sample of drivers who were interviewed here were not indiscriminate in their driving and the views of themselves as competent drivers were supported by articulations that they knew how to read, and respond to, various traffic conditions. The issue, perhaps, is that for some of these drivers, their own judgements over a number of years meant they felt they knew better than the law.

Material Influences

5.40 For some, the costs of alternative, non-illegal driving activities were seen to be too great compared with the perceived low-risk option of engaging in illegal activities, if the latter meant that their personal objectives could be achieved more quickly and easily. When discussing whether he had considered taking alternative action, rather than driving under the influence of drink and drugs on a recent night out, one participant explained that:

"Financially as well, to leave the car somewhere, possibly pay for parking over-night, get a taxi to our destinations. That's a lot of money financially. 'Cause public transport is quite expensive, especially at that time of night. And, buses, as well, can be awkward." [Male, 29]

5.41 The same participant went on to elaborate that:

"It's like cutting corners - it's easier, it's quicker, it's cheaper. I know the penalties I suppose are higher than leaving the car and getting a taxi, or a bus, taking two or three buses somewhere. It's just the easiest. The convenience of it." [Male, 29]

5.42 Such statements show that material considerations - and specifically a weighing up of the low chances of receiving a high penalty when set against the known and inevitable costs of taking alternative, safer actions - may be sufficient to direct some people's choices to drive illegally.

5.43 Indeed, a number of drivers spoke about material or financial considerations affecting their driving choices, and this seemed to be something that, in the case of speeding, might make them slow down, e.g. to reduce fuel consumption. One female driver, when asked about her reaction to seeing a mobile police unit with a speed gun on a recent occasion explained:

"The first thing I do is I lift my foot off the accelerator and I think, "I have to conserve fuel". That was the first thing that came into my head, that "I have to conserve fuel. Not anything like a speeding ticket or that, but that I have to conserve fuel." [Female, 56]

5.44 Another male driver who reported speeding explained that, he did sometimes consider his speed in the context of what it meant for his vehicle, rather than his own or others' safety:

"But, it's not good for the car either, this constant breaking and accelerating, breaking and accelerating. You know, it's not good for the vehicle… And, with the prices of fuel these days. That is something that I think has possibly helped me drive more sedately is that I'm aware of the fact that planking your foot on and off the accelerator all the time is very fuel thirsty." [Male, 50]

5.45 Also on material considerations, one unemployed respondent explained that the biggest thing that may make him change his behaviour was a need to find, and hold-down, a job:

"I could see it happening again [drink and drug driving]. I mean, if I wasn't pursuing this [new career], I could see the situation happening again. I would continue driving in the same way at the moment which is, sometimes after a drink, sometimes after some drugs, sometimes texting…" [Male, 29]

5.46 Together, such statements show that material influences, rather than just immediate risk of being caught or having an accident, may also work in changing people's behaviours.

Non-human Interventions

5.47 Finally, a few participants, when asked what might make them keep within the law for all future driving, suggested that technological interventions may be effective in reminding them to comply with various rules (including in-car devices and external speed limit reminders). That said, it seems that, even when available, some existing in-car devices which are designed to do just that, are not used. For example, respondents reported using their mobile phones to talk whilst driving even when they had a Bluetooth system, either because they "forgot" or because it was considered too cumbersome to set up. Others failed to put on their seatbelts even when their internal seatbelt alarm was ringing.

5.48 Such comments reinforce the notion that, for many, their illegal driving is unintentional and could be altered by simple, regular reminders of restrictions, however, these comments also perhaps indicate a laziness or notion that there should be shared responsibility for drivers sticking to the laws, rather than people taking direct responsibility for their actions.

Participants expressed that their behaviours were, in some cases, influenced by factors external to themselves, including perceived pressure from others to drive in particular ways, the conditions or situations in which they were driving and their consideration of the material costs of taking alternative actions. Overall, while 'known others' were more likely to play a part in contributing to drivers' commission of mobile phone offences, 'unknown others' were more likely to play a part in speeding offences. Whilst perceived self-efficacy and control perhaps outweighed these factors in determining driving behaviours overall, it seems that these variables do, nonetheless, play a part in explaining why people choose to drive illegally.