6 Reducing Illegal Driving Behaviours: What works?
This chapter considers participants' views on what may be effective in reducing illegal driving behaviours. Personal punishment experiences and the perceived risk, outcomes and impacts of being caught are discussed. Discussions on Road Traffic Accident (RTA) experiences, including the outcomes and impacts of accidents and perceptions of future accident likelihood are also presented. Participants' recall of marketing campaigns and their perceived impacts is also presented.
Personal Punishment Experiences
6.1 Of the 15 people who took part, only four reported that they had never before been caught by the police for illegal driving (either directly or via a speed camera) or received any previous penalties for doing so. All others had received previous points on their licence, six reported previous fines for speeding, two had received fines for mobile phone offences, one had received a fine for not wearing their seatbelt and one had received a conviction for another (undisclosed) type of driving offence. One respondent reported that he had previously received a driving ban and was currently sitting with nine penalty points on his licence. The females who took part reported fewer previous personal punishment experiences overall, and a narrower range of previous penalties.
6.2 In most cases, people described their previous experience of being directly stopped by the police in terms of it being caused by a temporary absence of mind, rather than as a result of their prolific engagement in illegal driving behaviours. Interestingly, many such descriptions included inferences that drivers felt annoyed at themselves for being caught, rather than remorseful. Not paying attention, instead of not driving appropriately, was often their biggest regret and some even cited annoyance as their main emotional response to being caught:
"I guess there's a lot of emotions going on. If you've done wrong, then you know you're annoyed at yourself." [Male, 44]
6.3 On the whole, those who had been caught by the police reflected on the experience as one of 'bad luck' and most accepted that, on the occasions that they had been caught, their being caught was justified.
Perceived risk of being caught
6.4 Despite most drivers reporting that they had previously been caught for illegal driving, most maintained that they considered the chances of being caught again as quite small and said that it was something that they generally did not think about when driving:
"I think I must think that the chances of getting caught are fairly low, because otherwise I wouldn't do it." [Female, 41]
6.5 Women were perhaps more likely to say that they perceived the risks of being caught as low compared to men, which may have been linked to the lower prevalence of actually being caught for women (albeit only marginal):
"I've never been caught not wearing my seatbelt, or anything like that. "I'm quite proud of the fact that I've had my licence for 20 years and I've not had any points on my licence." [Female, 41]
6.6 For some, the risks of being caught were described as being akin to the lottery or a 'lightning strike', insofar as they perceived it would only happen once and, thereafter, it gave them a clean slate to continue offending (since the 'odds' were now reduced back down). There was, it seems, an inevitability to getting caught at some point in one's driving career, rather than it being something that was within the driver's control:
"I have had times where I have just thought, regardless of how confident or comfortable I feel in the car, sometimes, I just won't bother using the car after any intoxication, not even texting. 'Cause, if I have done it quite frequently, it kind of feels like it's about time now…the odds are on that I'm gonna get caught this time…I'm just waiting to get caught for what I know I'm doing wrong." [Male, 29]
6.7 Others described the risks of being caught in terms of a 'gamble' or 'hope' as if it was not within their own control:
"I think I probably just took the chance. I hoped." [Female, 41]
6.8 These views offer an interesting contrast to drivers' defence of their illegal behaviours as being 'within their control'. For some, it seems that, even though they have complete confidence in their driving (even illegal driving), there is an inevitability to being caught that even they cannot control.
6.9 Many respondents also commented that they perceived their risks of being caught in the future were low, not because they had any intention of changing their behaviours, but because they felt they were savvy with regards to the times and places where they were most likely to be caught and so either avoided or changed their behaviours temporarily in such areas. People also described how they 'avoided' being caught, not by deciding to not engage in illegal activities, but by reacting quickly to a police presence:
"I think a few times I've been pretty close [to being caught]. You just catch them [the police] even driving by. Or, you see a police car and you think, you drop the phone, or you hang up, that kind of thing." [Male, 44]
6.10 Perceived unlikelihood of being caught was also linked in several cases to the perception that there was a low police presence on the roads (especially country roads, as discussed above).
6.11 Interestingly, and related back to notions of the 'worse offender', many people felt that they were less likely to be caught than others who they perceived as driving faster, using their phone more often or carrying out such behaviours as drink or drug driving. This reasoning was somewhat flawed insofar as people did not necessarily equate frequency with which people did these behaviours and their risks of being caught but rather the perceived seriousness of what they were doing. For example, people described how there was always someone driving faster than them and that they perceived it would be that driver, not themselves, who would be pulled over the police (if at all), regardless of themselves perhaps driving less excessively over the speed limit, but doing so more often.
Outcomes and impacts of being caught
6.12 Overwhelmingly, people described how being caught by the police had affected their own driving behaviour but all explained that the deterrent effects had only been short-term. One women, who had been caught several times by the police for speeding explained that:
"Today and tomorrow and next week, yes, but how long it will stay in my mind? I don't know. Something else will replace it in my mind. I'll be more aware of my speed, for a short time, but as it becomes a distant memory, I just go back to normal….Probably a month or two…then I just forget [again]". [Female, 62]
6.13 Similarly, when asked if they would continue to do the same things in the future, people admitted that they most probably would:
"Probably…I'd be telling you a lie if I said that I would definitely stick to the speed limit because I know I wouldn't." [Female, 56]
6.14 Again, the main reasons for this were that people didn't perceive they were really doing anything wrong, and that, given that their driving was habitual, they would simply "slip back into old habits."
6.15 Other respondents also explained that, while the experience of being caught and punished had made them change their behaviours in the short term, this change was not necessarily motivated by a sense of needing to drive more safely for their own and others' benefit, but rather to avoid losing their licence or receiving another penalty/fine or simply losing face:
"Often, when I'm speeding, I'll slow down if I see a speed camera or a police car, you know, you obviously you don't want to get caught. I've had a speeding fine before, and it was expensive and it puts your insurance up." [Male, 22]
6.16 Indeed, the deterrent effects of being caught, as well as being relatively short-lasting, were largely described in quite selfish or self-preservation terms, rather than anyone demonstrating that being caught had made them consider the dangerousness of their driving behaviour.
Perceptions of penalties per se
6.17 Existing penalties for illegal driving were seen, on the whole, to be quite ineffectual, especially financial penalties. Indeed, people often spoke about previous financial penalties as being 'annoying' or 'frustrating', but none mentioned that the fine, in itself, worked as a deterrent to future offending:
"I don't think increasing it [penalties] would make much of a difference. It would just make you feel worse, but I don't think it would actually stop you from doing it." [Male, 50]
6.18 Points on drivers' licences were also often framed as an 'annoyance' during discussions, rather than being considered as a real punishment or deterrent.
6.19 It seems that, only if penalties were significantly increased would drivers really pay attention to them as a deterrent:
"If the penalties were greater, that would make me reassess what I do…£50 wouldn't bother me, but £500 would." [Female, 29]
"If it was a case that, if you get caught speeding, you lose your licence, absolutely [that would work]." [Female, 56]
6.20 It is important to note that none of the participants had ever received high tariff penalties, for example, a custodial sentence and only one had received a driving ban, and so their comments related mostly only to fines, and points on their licences.
Interactions with the Police
6.21 Most respondents reported that their experience with the police when previously having been caught for illegal driving had been cordial. Few reported that their experience had made them feel guilty:
"Oh God, it was awful. I was worried that I was going to lose my licence 'cause it was such a big breach as well, 'cause I was going at 72 mph in that 30 mph limit." [Female, 41]
6.22 Although, on the whole, interactions with the police were described in positive terms, in some cases, people described confrontational and disappointing interactions which left them feeling that they had been treated unfairly. Where reported, harsh treatment by the police during one-to-one interactions was often considered as inappropriate because drivers felt that they were being treated as 'worse' offenders that they perceived themselves to be. As one male, who had been charged with using his phone while driving explained:
"It is a serious offence, but I thought, "I'm not a bad person. I don't do things normally." And I just felt that it was a real kick in the teeth to be honest, and they were quite unpleasant and they treated me as if I'd just mowed somebody over rather than just picked up the phone…I could have been some kind of knife wielding maniac and they would have treated me the same. I really objected to it… The way they treated you, you felt like a 'real' criminal." [Male, 50]
6.23 This again links back to people's perceptions that driving offences are not as serious as other types of offences and should not, therefore, perhaps attract the same level of social and police scornfulness as other more serious crimes.
6.24 Some other respondents also discussed previous conviction experiences in the context of feeling that they were an 'easy catch' for the police:
"I was fined for not wearing a seatbelt once. I was pulling out of a parking space, and I didn't know it was an unmarked police car, and they were behind me and I was reversing and then I went to pull the seatbelt on as I was just edging out onto the road, and the sirens went. So, they sat and watched me do it….and I wasn't particularly impressed with the police at that, to be honest with you. I felt that was almost entrapment." [Female, 41]
6.25 This again perhaps shows some inclination on behalf of some respondents to never take full responsibility for their driving behaviour. In this case, the occurrence of being caught was attributed to 'sneaky' police rather than driver error.
Direct and Vicarious Road Traffic Accident Experiences
6.26 Across participants, there were very few reported road traffic accidents (RTAs) and no serious road traffic accidents. Just under half said that they had ever been involved in a road traffic accident (almost all reportedly caused by someone else), and nine said that they had a 'near miss.' For some, as with being caught, the low prevalence of previous RTA experience was seen as reflecting the fact that they were safe drivers.
Outcomes and impacts of accidents
6.27 Despite the absence of any direct, personal serious RTAs, many of the respondents were able to recall incidents that had happened to close family or friends. These do seem to have impacted on drivers, but only in the short term:
"I don't have much personal experience but when I was 22 my girlfriend, two of her friends she went to school with both died in car crashes and at that time, that gave me a big, "Woawh". I don't think they were drunk, I think they were just driving fast. But that was really scary. That did 'buck up my ideas' for a bit…and it might pop up now and again if someone mentions it, and you think, "Oh, remember how I felt then", but generally, it's almost like mourning - it eventually goes away and you just carry on. Back to the 'same old', yeah." [Male, 29]
6.28 Again, there seemed to be a lack of learning from the experiences of others and applying the lessons directly to one's own driving behaviours.
6.29 In the absence of any direct serious RTAs, participants were asked if they perceived direct personal involvement in a road traffic accident may deter them from driving illegally in the future. Respondents generally perceived that the effects would be relatively short term. As one prolific speeder explained:
"But, it's one of these things that, perhaps that would keep you safe for a bit, but then there'd be one other occasion when it's imperative that you get somewhere on time, that you would do it again." [Male, 50]
6.30 Overall, the lack of accident experiences among the sample meant that they found it difficult to reflect on the likely impact that accidents would have.
Perceptions of future accident likelihood
6.31 Most drivers considered that the risks of them being involved in an accident in the future were slim. Most often this was because they considered that they were not dangerous drivers, that they were always 'in control' and that, lack of previous accidents was proof that they were safe. Where drivers did consider that they may be at risk was from other drivers:
"I think it's very unlikely [that I would have an accident]. Because, I have confidence in myself when I'm driving. But, there's always a wee thought at the back of my mind about everybody else [other drivers]. You know what I mean?" [Female, 56]
6.32 Indeed, people directly attributed others' misfortune with accidents as being related to their own bad driving, in comparison to their own:
"If you're an aggressive driver, there's more chance of you having an accident. I guess I must be quite lucky - there have been people [I know] who have had accidents, but maybe they're just not anticipating as well, or don't give people as much space." [Male, 22]
6.33 Interestingly, people's perceptions of chances of accidents were not always seen as being correlated with 'illegal' driving, but were often talked about in terms of 'irresponsible' or 'anti-social' driving behaviours (such as tail-gating, driving too slowly, etc.)
6.34 As with perceived risks of being caught, many participants expressed feelings of 'luck' that they hadn't or wouldn't be involved in a serious road traffic accident:
"I've never had a serious near miss crash. Actually, I think I have been very lucky when I have been driving." [Male, 22]
6.35 People seemed to justify this blazé attitude by suggesting that, to do otherwise, would mean restricting their everyday lives. To a certain extent, people accepted that driving was risky, dangerous and even lethal, but accepted this as part and parcel of having travel independence:
"I don't know. An accident could happen any time really, can't it…It's such a dangerous thing to drive. You're in charge of a lethal weapon…I think you have to be blazé to drive in the first place and not really think about what you're doing." [Female, 41]
6.36 Overall, given the lack of previous serious RTAs and of receiving high end punishments for their driving, drivers' generally perceived that there was no incentive or good basis on which to change their current behaviours or to even spend time thinking about how or what they might change:
"It was fine last time. I know that's really not the greatest reason, but, nothing has changed to make me stop doing it before." [Male, 22]
The 'Worst' That Can Happen?
6.37 In order to provide added value from the research, specific questions were introduced to ask respondents what they perceived would be the 'worst thing' that could happen to them whilst carrying out illegal driving activities. Such questioning was used primarily where people demonstrated complacency with regards to their illegal driving.
6.38 This question typically produced one of two responses: the worst thing being either that the driver would kill themselves or that they would kill another person. In only one case did the respondent report that having their licence removed would be the 'worst thing' and in another case, a respondent mentioned 'writing off' their car. In both cases, when prompted about how this would compare with the risk of death, both participants rescinded their initial response.
6.39 Overwhelmingly, people felt that killing or hurting someone else was more serious than killing or hurting themselves:
"I think it's worse than hurting myself because it's my choice to do these things [illegal behaviours]. So, if I hurt myself, I'd like to think that I've weighed up the risks to myself against doing what I'm doing but these other people don't have choices. Like I say, if it's a pedestrian, it's purely my fault, or another driver." [Male, 29]
6.40 Whilst this may be perceived as an indifference towards their own personal safety, it may also be linked to the perception that, as the driver was always in control and responsible for their driving, they had only themselves to blame for any such occurrence. 'Others', however, had no control of such scenarios.
6.41 Whilst there was consensus that fatalities represented the worst thing that could happen, for some the slim likelihood of this occurrence meant that they were still defiant in defending their illegal behaviours, which could potentially lead to such outcomes.
6.42 Overall, when challenged on their complacency, it seems that there would need to be a real 'finality' to the outcome of illegal driving in order to dissuade people from repeatedly doing it again in the future. At present, risks of being caught, and the associated penalties, along with perceived low risk of hurting someone seem not to work. The enormity of the types of outcomes that would be necessary in order to get people to change their behaviours seems huge. However, if it could be demonstrable to prolific illegal drivers that their actions significantly increased the chance of a fatality or loss of licence - because of slower reaction times - then this might have an impact on future activity.
Recall and Impact of Marketing Campaigns
6.43 In order to try and assess what might work in deterring future, repeat or prolific illegal driving in the sample, people were asked if they had previously seen any road safety adverts which may have impacted on their own driving, as well as for ideas around what might work in deterring them in the future.
Recall of adverts and messages
6.44 Perhaps the most widely recalled television advert targeted at reducing speeding was the "It's 30 for a Reason" advert, showing the different outcomes for a young girl hit by a speeding car at 30 mph and 40 mph. The only other speed related advert that was mentioned was a radio advert:
"The one on the radio that sticks out in my mind was the one where they were saying "He was over the limit, he was over the limit" and it was over the speed limit, not the drink limit." [Female, 41]
6.45 In relation to drink driving, there was good recall among participants of the Think! - Moment of Doubt advert showing the interaction between a bar-man and customer and the possible outcomes of being caught over the drink drive limit.
6.46 The Drink Driving Pub Crash advertisement which simulated a car crash in a pub setting was also recalled by several participants, most of whom were male:
"There's one, I was going to call it the 'Fosters' advert, but it's not. There's two guys sitting in a pub and they're sitting at a table and they both have a beer and the table slams against them like they've had a car crash. That was an anti-drinking one." [Male, 22]
6.47 Other participants mentioned adverts about 'young people under the influence' but could not remember anything more specific.
6.48 Many of the older drivers spontaneously also recalled the 40 year old 'Clunk Click Every Trip' slogan and advertisement aimed at encouraging drivers to wear a front seatbelt for all journeys, including short trips:
"I suppose it was maybe, when I was brought up, there was that 'Clunk-Click advert' and it was very successful. It was quite a good campaign. And, it also makes sense because, even in small accidents, you can travel quite a bit and give yourself a nasty injury, and its second nature now." [Male, 50]
6.49 The Think! - Always Wear a Seatbelt campaign showing three male youths in a car, and the different outcomes for the rear passenger when wearing and not wearing a rear seatbelt was also recalled by two respondents.
6.50 Two respondents also recalled the Think! - Always Wear a Seatbelt advert showing the mother crushed by her son:
"When I was a kid, and not long before I started driving, there was big campaigns on about wearing seatbelts in cars. There was a horrible advert where the lady in the front has her seatbelt on but the guy in the back doesn't and he hits her. That kind of upset me. I suppose I do tend to wear my seatbelts because of that. In the front, in the back, yeah. That did open my eyes at the time, yeah." [Male, 29]
6.51 Nobody could recall any advertisements targeted at use of mobile phones either for making or receiving calls, or for sending or receiving texts, while driving. The only other advert that was mentioned was the "Don't be an Ambler Gambler" advertisement.
Perceptions of content
6.52 While many people could provide 'sketchy' details about the content and message of the various adverts, no-one had accurate recall and many could remember the graphic nature of the adverts, but not necessarily the messages that they sought to convey:
"I remember something about a child, but I can't remember the details of it. It was quite 'gorey'." [Female, 62]
6.53 There was some disagreement between respondents in terms of the appropriateness and perceived impact of adverts that were 'graphic' in their design. For some, this was seen as necessary to 'shock' the viewer or make them pay attention, while for others, it potentially acted as a barrier to their effectiveness, since some people were inclined to purposefully look away from such scenes. Amongst this small sample, there were no gender or age differences in whether people perceived graphic content to be appropriate or effective.
Perceived and reported direct impacts on behaviour
6.54 As well as being the most widely recalled advert, the "It's 30 for a Reason" advert was also the one which was described as having the most direct impact on people's self-reported driving behaviours. Almost all respondents said that they were very cautious, especially around '20's plenty' areas and schools, or areas where they considered young children may be present. People often mentioned this advert in relation to their own sensibilities in such areas.
6.55 This aside, overall, as with personal experiences of being caught or having an accident, sentiments were also expressed that, regardless of how impactful the advertisements were at the time they were viewed, their direct and lasting influence over drivers personal behaviours was minimal:
"At the time, they did make me think about the need to slow down, and the drink driving one especially was quite disturbing…But then, after not seeing it again, um, you kind of just forget the feelings that you had when you saw it and you don't think back on it…" [Male, 29]
6.56 One of the other themes to emerge from the interviews was that the television may not be the best medium through which to communicate such messages. People mentioned not paying attention to TV advertisements and purposefully forwarding through them, if they had the technology to do so. One other respondent expressed the view that some current television programmes (for example, Top Gear), may encourage dangerous driving since he perceived that they advocated 'fast driving' and driving for thrills.
6.57 Finally, people felt that some of the adverts they had previously seen were too 'stereotypical' in their nature, and suggested that adverts that captured a wider spread of more 'realistic' everyday scenarios were needed:
"Every Christmas, it's [TV campaigns] about somebody sitting in a pub and drinking, and it doesn't always happen that way. It's not just about people sitting in the pub. The amount of people that think, "I've had a couple of glasses but I fancy a takeaway", and they jump in the car and…they've had two or three glasses, and they drive up the street. That's more a common problem than any…It doesn't have to be about someone sitting in the pub for 10 hours." [Female, 41]
6.58 This is interesting since one of the female drivers interviewed did report that she had driven once in the last six months under the influence of drugs, in order to collect her young son from his grandparents. The trip had not been planned, and the respondent said that she felt that the 10 mile journey required would be safe and, given the need to collect her son, felt that the risks warranted the activity. This shows that some illegal behaviours, even those which attract some of the most social disdain, can occur among drivers who perhaps do not fit the stereotype of risky or illegal drivers.
Most of those interviewed had been caught by the police for illegal driving yet considered the chances of being caught (again) as quite small. Deterrent effects had also only been short-term. Existing penalties for illegal driving were seen, on the whole, to be quite ineffectual, especially financial penalties. The lack of accident experiences among the sample meant that they found it difficult to reflect on the likely impact that accidents would have. For some, the lack of previous RTA experience was seen as reflecting the fact that they were safe drivers. Participants did recall a number of adverts they had seen in recent years, and while some reported they did have an impact, this again was short term.