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Motivating behaviour change among high risk road users: Why is there no Science of Driving?

Smith, G


ACRS conference 2008

In Australia the 17-21 year age group is still in the highest risk age bracket, though in some countries road crash incidence is increasing among road users in their early- or mid-thirties. For over twenty years my colleagues and I have presented one, two and up to five day driving courses to some 30,000 to 40,000 people of all ages. Somewhat less than half of these presentations have been to young people from 15 to 18 years. In past years most of these young people have had no driving licence. In recent times many have a learner’s licence, the issuance of which has been reduced to 16 ½ years.

Throughout our experience there have always been a number of young people who attend our courses holding a provisional licence. This situation has provided my colleagues and myself with the opportunity to have a deep insight into the reasons associated with high risk behaviour among young road users.

The attainment of a driver’s licence is in most young minds the major symbol marking the ‘Rite of Passage’ to adulthood. Our young participants who hold a provisional licence will often consider themselves to be quite superior drivers to the non-licenced students, or, conversely, they may be elevated onto a pedestal by the non-licenced students themselves. Often in this situation the provisional licence holder will indulge in high risk behaviour to ‘prove’ their superiority. This choice of action is usually counter-productive for the ‘P’ plate driver, as a crash into traffic cones soon occurs.

Most attempts at this type of driver education and training throughout the world have been aimed at ‘provisional’ drivers. Where studies have been carried out to assess these courses they have generally failed to establish either a positive or a negative outcome. It is our belief that much of this type of driver education has been mis-directed.

Our long and extensive experience suggests that much more can be done to establish appropriate risk assessment behaviour in young people before rather than after they are issued with a ‘P’ licence.