Country risk takers under the microscope

New Transport Accident Commission research has revealed why some young country drivers habitually take risks on regional roads.

The study examined the behaviours and attitudes of 92 country drivers with poor driving histories, including repeat speeding offenders, drink drivers and others who had received a licence suspension or disqualification in the past.

Among the key findings was that many speed on country roads because they think they know the roads and irresponsibly drink drive when they feel that there is no other way to get home.

Risky drivers aged 19 to 35 in three regional municipalities - Cardinia, Mitchell and Golden Plains Shire (taking in part of the Ballarat area) - each took part in two focus groups held six months apart. They were questioned about their driving habits and attitudes towards road safety.

TAC Chief Executive Officer Janet Dore said the study focussed on regional drivers because vehicle occupants were three times more likely to be killed and 40 per cent more likely to be seriously injured on regional roads than in Melbourne.

Ms Dore said the commission regularly conducted research into risky behaviour in order to effectively target public education campaigns and plan road safety programs.

"Unfortunately too many country drivers still feel that they can ignore road safety laws. This research helps give the TAC a better understanding of how we can change these attitudes," Ms Dore said.

"This research was not about determining the extent of risky driving across the state, it was more about talking to the people who we know take risks and finding out what makes them tick."

In the first round of focus groups, 67 per cent of males stated that within the past six months they had driven over the legal alcohol limit. That figure had decreased to 61 per cent when the second session was held in May this year. Females were significantly less likely to drink drive, with 33 per cent saying they had driven under the influence in the six months before the first focus group, decreasing to 19 per cent by May this year.

In the first sessions, 49 per cent of all respondents stated they speed in 100km/h zones 'often', with 31 per cent saying they did it "occasionally". By the second focus group speeding had reduced, with 34 per cent doing it often and 53 per cent doing it occasionally.

Ms Dore said it was encouraging that the process of discussing the potential consequences of their risky driving during the first round of focus groups had appeared to result in a decrease in risky behaviour by the second round.

"It does demonstrate how encouraging people to think about how their actions can cause serious injuries or death can work to curtail their risk-taking behaviour," she said.

The following table summarises the most common reasons participants gave for risky driving:

Exceeding speed limit by up to 30km/h.

I know the roads well.

Running late.

Exceeding speed limit by 30km/h +

For fun.

Because I drive a high-performance car.

Drink driving

There is no other way to get home.

I'm a good driver and in control despite of alcohol consumption.

Drug driving

Because I'm the nominated driver.

To stay awake after a late night.

Mobile phone use

It's the only time I can make phone calls when I'm busy.

I don't want to miss a call.

Driving on suspended licence

Need to get to and from work .

Public transport not available.

Drive without seatbelt

Not in the habit.

They're uncomfortable.

Other key findings included:

Risky drivers tended to have a high opinion of their own driving skills, with 69 per cent stating that they were a better than average driver.

Participants generally believed it was the actions of other drivers or road conditions beyond their control that were most likely to cause accidents.

Half of the participants said hurting or killing someone else was their biggest concern in relation to drink driving, while 25 per cent most feared being caught by police.

Participants considered using mobile phones while driving as normal driving behaviour.

Ms Dore said there was a perception among many regional drivers that they could get away with taking risks because there was less traffic or because the police presence is spread over a bigger geographical area.

"Regardless of whether people think they are in control, they can't overcome the physics: the faster you drive, the less time you have to perceive hazards and the more likely you are to be seriously injured or killed in the event of a collision," Ms Dore said.

"With regard to drink driving, it is disturbing to think that people can justify their behaviour by saying that a lack of public transport leaves them no alternative. Surely the obvious alternative for someone who can't get home without driving would be to refrain from drinking."

To see the full report compiled by the Social Research Centre, visit: www.tac.vic.gov.au/surveys

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