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Left on the Side of the Road? A Review of Deterrence-Based Theoretical Developments in Road Safety

Freeman, J, Armstrong, K, Truelove, V, Szogi, E (Peer reviewed)

Road Safety Programs

ARSC conference 2015

Deterrence-based initiatives form a cornerstone of many road safety countermeasures. This approach is informed by Classical Deterrence Theory, which proposes that individuals will be deterred from committing offences if they fear the perceived consequences of the act, especially the perceived certainty, severity and swiftness of sanctions. While deterrence-based countermeasures have proven effective in reducing a range of illegal driving behaviours known to cause crashes such as speeding and drink driving, the exact level of exposure, and how the process works, remains unknown. As a result the current study involved a systematic review of the literature to identify theoretical advancements within deterrence theory that has informed evidence-based practice. This review indicated that scientific efforts to understand deterrence processes were most intense during the 1970s and 1980s. This era produced competing theories that postulated both legal and non-legal factors can influence offending behaviours. Since this time, little theoretical progression has been made in the road safety arena, apart from Stafford and Warr's (1993) reconceptualisation of deterrence that illuminated the important issue of punishment avoidance. In contrast, the broader field of criminology has continued to advance theoretical knowledge by investigating a range of individual differences-based factors proposed to influence deterrent processes, including: moral inhibition, social bonding, self-control, tendencies to discount the future and decision making competencies. However, this scientific knowledge has not been directed towards identifying how to best utilise deterrence mechanisms to improve road safety. This paper will highlight the implications of this lack of progression and provide direction for future research