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Changing driving behaviour--a cultural approach.


The paper proposes that values, attitudes, expectations and beliefs related to driving are embodied on a social level and not merely an individual level, within a culture of driving. There is a culture of driving in the sense that there is a set of values, attitudes, expectations and beliefs which broadly applies to how we as a culture or a society approach driving. While individuals clearly vary in the ways in which these factors influence them and in the additional values, attitudes, expectations and beliefs they may bring to driving, each is nevertheless influenced to a great extent by the social level of expectation, attitudes and belief. A culture of driving also embraces the symbolism of the car and the ways in which a society or culture as a whole is centred around the car and driving.

The concept of a culture of driving aims to highlight these factors and offer a critical examination of aspects of that culture in order to identify the role it plays in contributing to problems. The culture itself could be contributing to the persistence of problems on the roads in ways that the driving public as a whole is unable to identify. The rules of the road are presumed to represent what we desire and expect in driving behaviour when the culture of driving might also implicitly condone speeding, for example. The expectations and agreement about what is acceptable behaviour on the roads cannot be presumed from the rules and legal parameters. It is necessary to look more broadly at the culture of driving to get a deeper understanding not focused solely on the individual.

Cognitive analyses such as those being undertaken in the UK (Parker et al.) focus on identifying characteristics of the individual such as attitudes and beliefs related to personal and social norms and perceived behavioural control. The information that can be gleaned from these studies is useful in building a profile of clusters of attitudes and beliefs influencing driving decisions, however, they do not provide any possible solutions. The studies are largely concerned with prediction and not with dealing with the contribution that these sets of attitudes and beliefs make to the construction of driving as a culture.

While it is individual drivers who exhibit problematic behaviours in the context of driving, individual behaviour is largely influenced by social identity, social groups and the culture of driving as a whole. I am proposing through future studies to examine the construction of an overall culture of driving which pertains to ways in which driving is approached by the culture as a whole. At the same time it is necessary to recognise that there are many variations within that culture and thus to consider the sorts of subcultures that exist within it. The overall culture might embrace beliefs and attitudes which include the idea, for example, that the roads are a means of getting anywhere, anytime in a minimum of time and effort, however, subcultures might maintain ideas such as the pleasure of driving or the risk taking aspect of driving.

I am interested therefore in looking at ways in which driving behaviour can be influenced through a cultural approach which is able to bring about a reassessment of, and possible cultural change in, the beliefs, attitudes and expectations of the driving public in line with the actual circumstances of driving and the variable conditions in which driving occurs.

The paper will evaluate some of the literature on driving behaviour which relies predominantly on a traditional psychological focus on the individual and then go on to outline the sort of approach involved in a cultural study. The results of some of the studies based on the theory of planned behaviour reveal some interesting and useful aspects of driving behaviour. However, the focus on the individual means that the applications of these studies is limited and they tend to rely on an implied agreement between the rules of the road and accepted good driving practice. The ACT project uses a model of behaviour loosely based on the theory of planned behaviour to approach driving instruction in a radically new way. The overall approach is positive and innovative, however it also needs some concrete social focus which enables accepted practices to be revealed and critiqued and a standard of good practice generated by the community itself. The cultural approach is able to reveal some of the contradictions and incongruities between social sanction and acceptance of rules and dangerous driving behaviours, and good driving practice.

Driving Behaviour

Many researchers have noted that driving behaviour is the most significant aspect of driving which needs to be dealt with to further reduce fatalities, risk and infringements. The RTA publication `Driving with Mind not Muscle' focuses on the need for more training which involves thinking and discussion about road safety issues in order to impact on the behaviour of the driver. Saffron noted in a 1982 seminar on the `The Place of the Driver in Road Safety' that detection and punishment were insufficient and thus a `more effective approach ... would be to alter the needs and attitudes which result in less safe driving'. He goes on to note that it is the majority of drivers whose behaviour would need to be altered since the majority of crashes are undergone by the majority of ordinary drivers. This suggests that there is a driving culture which largely accepts, ignores or even condones certain kinds of driving behaviour.

Barry Watson (1994) considers the limited effectiveness of trainer training programs, traffic offence penalties and mass media road safety campaigns in changing the behaviour of road users. Media campaigns are not enough on their own to `alter entrenched behaviours' and educational measures, which are popular with the general public, are also rarely sufficient. However, Watson cites findings by Elliott (1993) showing that `campaigns requesting behaviour change or modification are more successful than those of an educational/informational nature'.

Analysis of discourse about driving and the rules of the road is likely to reveal a widespread acceptance of the use of certain aberrant driving behaviours indicating tacit agreement to these within the community. Many drivers speed regularly and would not support measures which challenged this behaviour too seriously. Fines and suspensions are generally accepted since most drivers feel their chance of getting caught is still pretty small and amounts to little more than `bad luck' and a lot of inconvenience. Justifications include, `everyone does it', `who sticks to the speed limit anyway, `I just have to get there whatever it takes' and so on.

There is now fairly extensive discussion and acceptance of the idea that there is a connection between psychological and behavioural characteristics of drivers and their potential involvement in accidents and intention to commit violations. In particular the role of underlying attitudes and beliefs in leading to undesirable or aberrant behaviours on the roads is being explored by various researchers.

In a 1991 group of studies reported in the UK, the authors conclude that `violations are social phenomena which require explanation in terms of driver attitudes, normative influences and motivational factors.' (Reason et al 1991, p. 65) In related studies it has been suggested that `a more global change in driver behaviour fostered through improved training or a different set of attitudes might reduce accidents' (Parker et al. 1995b). There are two important points here. Firstly, there is a need for a focus on aspects of the thinking related to driving, including the ability to make adequate judgements as well as to be aware of and evaluate attitudes, assumptions, beliefs and expectations. Secondly, the impact of general social attitudes, beliefs and expectations on driving behaviour needs greater consideration.

The sort of additional driver training that may be required is clearly not skill based. Skill is easily acquired and generally sufficient in most drivers, however, other factors, (excluding lack of experience in young people, where the problem relates to insufficient experience and development of schemata), such as irresponsible attitudes, poor judgement and so on are related to the thinking of the driver. To a large extent the thinking is related to socially condoned attitudes, beliefs and expectations and it is these that require investigation and evaluation.

Driving behaviour is strongly influenced by the attitudes of one's family, peers and other significant persons (Saffron 1982, Parker et al. 1996). It is difficult for individuals to simply change their behaviour alone. In order to change behaviour, there is a need to influence them on a social as well as an individual level. For this reason, dealing with behaviour, beliefs and attitudes on a cultural level is important.

The Theory of Planned Behaviour

Parker et al. (1992, 1995) have studied the role of perceived behavioural control and personal norm in predicting intentions to commit driving offences using the theory of planned behaviour (Ajzen 1988), an extension of the theory of reasoned action (Fishbein and Ajzen 1975). A number of interesting features have emerged from their research which give some indication of the level of social influence operating on driver behaviour.

In the theory of planned behaviour, behavioural intention is informed by attitudes, subjective norm and perceived behavioural control. Attitudes are based on beliefs about the consequences, and an evaluation of the consequences of performing a behaviour (Parker et al. 1992). According to Ajzen (1988) an attitude is a favourable or unfavourable response to an object producing an attraction toward or an aversion from the object.

Attitudes have cognitive, affective and cognitive components, all of which are involved in a response to the object and which contribute to and give an indication of the overall attitude `tone'. The different components can allow for differences in specific and overall responses. For example, someone who feels uneasy in hospitals, nevertheless undergoes an operation because they believe most doctors to be competent and qualified. Here there may be a negative affect with regard to the medical profession but nevertheless a positive cognitive component (favourable towards doctors) and a favourable cognitive response (agrees to have the operation) (Ajzen 1988).

Subjective norm comprises social expectations and the individual's perceptions of those expectations and motivation to comply with them. `Generally speaking, people intend to perform a behaviour when they evaluate it positively (attitude) and when they believe that important others think they should perform it (subjective norm).' (Ajzen 1988, p. 117) The basis of both attitude and subjective norm is ultimately beliefs--behavioural beliefs in the case of attitude, and normative beliefs in the case of subjective norm.

`Depending on the evaluation of the behaviour's likely consequences and motivation to comply with referent sources, attitudes and subjective norms emerge that guide the formation of behavioural intentions.' (Ajzen 1988, p. 127)

Perceived behavioural control was introduced into the theory of reasoned action to take into account aspects of intention which are not necessarily or perceived to be under the control of the individual. Included here are non motivational factors such as availability of resources and opportunities. Thus intentions may be thwarted by lack of skills, information or ability, or by emotions and compulsions, or by other external factors which interfere. The most interesting feature of perceived behavioural control however, is when beliefs may prevent formation of appropriate attitudes. Control beliefs relate to the individual's perception of behavioural control whether this corresponds to actual control or not.

`People who believe that they have neither the resources nor the opportunities to perform a certain behaviour are unlikely to form strong behavioural intentions to engage in it even if they hold favourable attitudes toward the behaviour and believe that important others would approve of their performing the behaviour.' (Azjen 1988, p. 134)

Where there is a favourable attitude and subjective norm but inappropriate control beliefs, there is a direct connection between perceived behavioural control and intention. In other cases there may be a strong link between the type of attitude and normative beliefs operating in relation to a particular behaviour, influencing perceived behavioural control.

Ajzen regards attitude as the private or personal aspect of intention and subjective norm as the more social influence, however, while each obviously involves an individual response, both are nevertheless informed by social meanings and beliefs generally. Attitudes are also highly socially influenced in this sense. Very few people maintain beliefs that are far outside the belief structures of their culture, so that at the very least, individuals will hold a set of beliefs which have a place within the overall belief structure of the culture.

Attitudes and beliefs are thus extensively influenced by the social context, and in a particular context such as driving there is likely to be a fairly limited range of attitude/belief structures which relate to it, given the beliefs relevant to and determining the culture of driving overall. Such socially influenced beliefs would include control beliefs and as well as normative beliefs. General social beliefs and expectations about control of motor vehicles and other aspects of driving, for example, would influence the beliefs of individuals.

The theory of planned behaviour, while able to predict intentions in particular cases, does not deal with the adequacy of beliefs related to the situation on a social level, or the social importance of the beliefs. It may be that where the issue appears to be perceived volitional control, which is also dependent on beliefs and these in turn are related to other beliefs and to the belief structure of the social context, it is actually a matter of the appropriateness of the beliefs informing attitudes and subjective norm on a social level. While it appears that on one level driving violations are socially undesirable it may be that there is also a level of social acceptance of speeding and close following, for example, particularly amongst particular age groups and in particular situations.

In assessing perceived behavioural control in commission of driving violations Parker et al. (1995a) weighted control beliefs with perceived power to facilitate or inhibit performance. The control belief question `Would you be more or less likely to carry out this manoeuvre (speeding, close following, etc.) if you were in a real hurry?' was weighted by the frequency of how often the individual might be in real hurry when driving. In a previous study (Parker et al. 1992) it was found that lower perceived control over behaviours such as speeding and close following was associated with higher intentions to commit these violations. In the 1995 study this was again confirmed, however, the authors also noted that there is a need for further investigation into how perceived control is measured and the salience of the identified control beliefs for a given population. It might also be noted that perceived control may involve strong social influences which over-ride or determine individual intentions seemingly beyond their control.

The 1995 study also involved an analysis of the contribution of personal norm to the variation in intentions to commit driving. Personal norm, which is distinguished from subjective norm, includes moral norm or internalised notions of right and wrong, and the anticipated affective consequences, feeling regret in this instance. It was found to be a useful predictor, making an even more significant contribution than attitude, subjective norm and perceived control, to the formation of intentions. This may indicate where there is a discrepancy between apparent social expectations (what is known to be right and wrong) and individual intention to comply with those expectations, however, individual intentions may also be strongly influenced by a counter subjective norm which interprets right and wrong in terms that are contrary to those of apparent notions of right and wrong--those that would agree with the rules of the road.

Internalised notions of right and wrong and the anticipated affective consequences of behaviours that are socially disapproved of, thus appear to be an important aspect of considering behaviour variations in the context of driving. However, the extent of actual social disapproval and the actual significance to individuals of social disapproval in the context of driving is unclear and requires further investigation in this research approach. There is very little room for considering the social impact of right and wrong. It is appears that there is an implicit assumption in the research that notions of right and wrong would comply with the explicit rules.

Wilful lack of concern for one's own and others safety noted by Parker et al. (1995a and 1995b) may reflect the relative weakness of moral norms associated with driving in the community generally. Feelings of invulnerability, illusion of control, lack of thoroughness and failure of observation noted by Parker et al. (1995b) may also reflect a general lack of understanding of the importance of attention to these aspects of driving in the community as a whole. The authors mention failure to analyse the consequences of failure to adjust speed which could be a general tendency to be unaware of the need to adjust speed or respond according to the circumstances. Such features are aspects of the thinking processes related to observation and expectation that require monitoring in the context of a complex and variable situation that demands a lot more of the driver than is perhaps generally expected or planned for.

These are factors which are not generally considered as important in the driving community as a whole, possibly because of the way in which developments in cars and roads have occurred at such a rapid rate and taken precedence over the ability and behaviour of the driver. Little attention has been paid to demanding more of the driver themselves in terms of awareness and social responsibility.

The emphasis of the application of the theory of planned behaviour is to identify behavioural characteristics associated with risk and tendency to commit violations. The theory thus reveals many important elements of behaviour that are involved in driving accidents and committing infringements, however it is limited to an analysis of individual intentions and does not extend to the culture of driving as a whole and the expectations and beliefs that are operating there to influence the individual driver and the behaviours that are implicitly condoned in the social context of driving.

Behaviour Change Framework

The behaviour change framework has been adopted in the ACT Novice Driver Safety project and stems from the theory of planned behaviour. It came out of a theorists' workshop which focused on identifying the common elements `necessary for the understanding and modification of behaviour' (Final Report 1998).

The main elements of the behaviour change strategies model are environmental constraints/motivators, intention to behave in a given way and ability to behave in a given way. Intention is made up of anticipated outcomes, normative pressure, personal standards, emotional reaction and self efficacy. The emphasis of the approach is to provide a `treatment' that is `relevant, convincing and derived from an understanding of the reasons why current behaviour is being manifested' by `doing things with/for young people' rather than to them. It is intended to focus on rewarding strategies and reinforcement of motivators which value the `by products of driving more than driving itself' as a way of indirectly reinforcing safe driving practices.

There is scope for dealing with cognitive objectives as well as establishing behavioural objectives within the program and recognition of the importance of the peer group and the effect of collective experience as both positive and negative reinforcer. The aim of the program is to provide facilitation, support and positive feedback in a relatively active format. It is innovative in changing the emphasis in dealing with novice drivers from the traditional directive and punitive approach to one which is more concerned with the young driver as an empowered participant rather than a disenfranchised recipient of passed down knowledge.

The program essentially places more attention on the guidance and instruction of young drivers, in particular on the length and type of experience the young driver has as a learner. There is an important shift in attitude towards the young driver embodied in the approach which is important for the community as a whole.

The program could be valuably complemented by a broader project involving the community more extensively in deriving a workable driving culture which nurtures the safety of young drivers. The focus is on young drivers and there is a need to work on the culture of driving as a whole. There is also a tacit acceptance here that it is clear what is right and what is wrong as far as the rules of driving go, however, while there is a law against speeding, there is also a level of community agreement that speeding is okay. This is no doubt confusing for young drivers in that what they are told and what they see and hear implicitly, are two different standards.

The program intends to deal with peer group pressure and find ways to make it positive by for example, acknowledging `false subjective norms', pro-active honesty to counteract the `everybody does it' justification which eventually leads to `behavioural decay'. It is unclear what is intended in dealing with the relationship between individual and group preferences in the development of subjective norm in the Final Report and this is also a weakness of the theoretical approaches on which it is based. The emphasis on the individual and individual intentions, fails to take adequate account of the social influences and the impact of overall social attitudes which influence individual preferences and intentions a great deal. This is not to suggest that individual differences and variations in how individuals conduct themselves as drivers should be ignored. On the contrary, a good analysis of driving as a culture should highlight the variations amongst drivers while also considering the influence of driving as a culture.

Cultural Approach

`Social constructionist inquiry is principally concerned with explicating the processes by which people come to describe, explain, or otherwise account for the world (themselves included) in which they live. It attempts to articulate common forms of understanding as they now exist, as they have existed in prior historical periods, and as they might exist should creative attention be so directed.' (Gerge, 1993, p. 266)

The social constructionist approach, developed in social psychology in response to various criticisms of the positivist, empirical tradition, focuses on the analysis of discourse in order to identify and evaluate the social and cultural processes operating within it and within which it operates. It can encompass a number of different discourses all of which relate to a particular area or phenomenon. gergenn (1990) looked at mental health discourses and the way in which they `operate so as to objectify a language of mental deficit', Lupton (1998) considers a number of different discourses such as structuralist, phenomenological, post structuralist and psychodynamic in her discussion of emotions.

Social constructionism, by considering different discourses and how they conceptualise and define an issue or phenomenon, concentrates on how the world is seen and understood within a given set of social relations and does not accept the way it is seen by any one discourse, as necessarily the way it is. There is also a need, however, to go beyond the analysis of discourse to place much greater emphasis on the actual social relations within which a phenomenon is produced and the broader processes within which it operates. Studies which have concentrated on the way in which the genders are constructed have highlighted the assumption that there are (only) two genders as a social construction, i.e. as part of the way the world is constructed, the way we see things, in the context of a broader network of social relations in which gender palsy a meaningful part.

A cultural analysis this also emphasises interrelatedness, following various feminist theorists and their critiques of individualism (among them, Chodorow (1978) and Gilligan (1982)) and involves placing the individual in relation to social processes. The individual does not exist as a separate, independent entity but in an interdependent relation with other individuals in a social and cultural context. More emphasis is given to the influence of social forces in shared representations, although the extent of the emphasis can vary from recognition of socio-cultural influences interacting with given factors to considering certain phenomena as the result of socio-cultural factors alone.

In her study of the emotions for example, Deborah Lupton notes the `weak' and the `strong' social constructionist positions. The `weak' accepts certain biological constraints which limit the range of emotional responses while also recognising the significance of social factors such that emotional responses are seen as occurring within a context rather than as `natural' or existing freely and independently of any context. The `strong' position `is that emotion is an irreducibly socio-cultural product, wholly learnt and constructed through acculturation'. (Lupton 1998, p. 15)

In the context of driving the issue is the extent to which the individual maintains beliefs, attitudes and expectations which are socially derived and the extent to which the relevant beliefs are individually determined. While each individual clearly determines many aspects of their driving behaviour, there is likely to be an area of overlap between individual behaviours and those that are socially sanctioned in one way or another. Individual characteristics are likely to play a significant part in determining one's reactions and responses at any given time but the range of likely behaviours is greatly determined by what other people do and what is socially acceptable, both explicitly and implicitly.

A cultural approach is essentially interested in identifying the ways in which norms and expectations are created, how they are maintained and how they operate within a given context. Expectations play a large role in the behaviour of drivers on the road according to Wilde (1994) who notes that when traffic changed from right to left hand lane in Sweden and Iceland, accident rates decreased because the community expectation was that there would be an increase in accidents due to confusion and potential for mistakes. When major roads were widened to four lanes, however, the expectation was that the road would be safer and easier and there were subsequent increases in speed levels. Wilde relates this to the notion of risk homeostasis in which the level of risk is monitored and when it is perceived to be low, risk will be increased in other ways (increasing speed, using roads with no speed limit as opposed to ones where there is a speed limit).

The driver who drives right up behind another vehicle which is travelling in a right hand lane and flashes their lights with the expectation that the other car should get out of the way to let them pass, even though they are clearly speeding, relies on a level of tacit acceptance that this sort of behaviour is acceptable and ordinary. There are expectations and attitudes represented here which are given a level of agreement by the culture as a whole. There is quite a lot of justification of speeding in the community generally and it is often regarded as `bad luck' if you are unlucky enough to get caught. Other sorts of driving behaviours such as close-following or tailgating and lane hopping are perhaps accepted in a similar way, although they may be resented at the same time.

While it might be assumed that norms and values would be in agreement with the rules or the appropriate way of behaving, it may be that the norms themselves are unclear or even at odds with the presumed knowledge of what is right. There may be a range of ways in which norms are understood and interpreted, as for example, in what is safe or appropriate driving behaviour. Some drivers argue that they're good enough drivers to decide the speed they want to travel at for themselves.

The extent to which attitudes are represented in the culture of driving could indicate that many of the `rules' of driving are not accepted on a very deep level, that is on the level of belief. Michael Billig (1987) notes that attitudes are not held over the sorts of things that are not questioned. Attitudes relate to controversial issues. When psychologists concentrate on the individual's motives they neglect the contextual aspect or wider argumentative context of attitudes. `... an attitude represents an evaluation of a controversial issue ... Therefore, the social context of attitudes is the context of controversy.' (Billig 1987, p. 177)

`... the uncontroversial beliefs of common-sense differ from those which are attitudes.' Opinion samplers are not likely to ask people what level of belief they hold about whether the earth is flat because it is a taken for granted assumption, ie. a strongly held belief that the earth is round and is therefore not controversial (for most people). People are not likely to have attitudes about such an issue where the belief seems fairly stable in the level of acceptance it enjoys. If good driving practice is accepted on the level of belief then there would be very little controversy about it according to this argument, and thus less prevalence of attitudes.

`... attitudes are more than visceral responses for or against a stimulus. They are stances on matters of public debate. That being so, the possession of an attitude indicates a statement of disagreement as much as of agreement, and it emphasises an implicit willingness to enter into controversy.' (Billig 1987, p. 177) The extent to which people as drivers are willing to defend illegal driving behaviours and habits is thus an indication of the general lack of acceptance of good driving practice. The prevalence of attitudes as controversial reflections on appropriate behaviours brings out the weakness of good driving practice as generally accepted.

A study of the culture of driving from a cultural perspective is therefore concerned to consider people's individual actions in the context of socially and culturally, implicitly and explicitly, condoned practices. It will focus on dealing with the discrepancies and inconsistencies between what people regard as good driving practice and what they actually do, and in determining what the dominant or predominating attitudes, beliefs and expectations are, by considering how people talk about driving and aspects of driving as well as what people do. The strength of beliefs and good practice can thus be considered in relation to the prevalence of attitudes, beliefs and expectations which are inconsistent with good practice. This will give an indication of the extent to which good practice can be considered as guiding and influencing the behaviour of most drivers.

Beyond Attitudes

Cognitive approaches require the implication of underlying structures within the individual that cannot be observed but only implied from behaviour and report. Attitudes are one such structure and one of the problems that has plagued research on attitudes is the tendency for there to be a great deal of variation in report and behaviour related to attitudes. Consistency must be sought in order to strongly maintain that an underlying attitude is in fact determining behaviour. Variation, however is an important aspect of the situation under investigation. Varying accounts will be produced within discourse to achieve different things (Potter and Wetherell 1987, p.53). The point of discourse analysis is to notice the variations and what they are doing within the context.

In the context of driving there may be discourses which justify speeding and at the same time validate the necessity for speed limits. These discourses might appear in the course of a conversation with one person who has different reasons for holding both views. It is these sorts of features which discourse analysis is interested in and which are more likely to reveal the relationship between unsafe driving practices on the one hand and accepted legal limits on the other and how the relationship is justified.

The notion of attitude can be useful as a social construct used by people in a particular context. People will identify certain statements, belonging to themselves and/or to others, as attitudes. The identification of attitudes on a social level is therefore a feature of the way in which people talk about the context and thus important in social analysis. It may also be the case that certain sorts of attitudes can be applied to particular individuals but this requires intensive analysis.

On a social level, however, attitudes can be tackled with the whole culture of drivers in mind in order to confront the acceptance of certain undesirable attitudes. The notion consequently retains some relevance in social discourse and cannot be ignored. In fact, given the extent to which it has entered public discourse, it has to be recognised as a social construct and considered as a factor in any social discourse analysis but in a way which highlights the sorts of features that are being identified as attitudes and what particular significance they have in that context.

Social Change

Watson (1994) states; `the emphasis on practical driving skills ignores the powerful influence that motivational and attitudinal factors can exert on driver behaviour.' Watson recommends, along with a number of other researchers (he cites, Job, 1995, Christie, 1995 and Watson, et al., 1996 among others) that driver training should focus more on addressing `the wide range of perceptual, cognitive, motivational and attitudinal factors which influence driver judgement and decision-making'.

It has been noted since the 70s that ability is relatively unimportant `compared with motivation in determining safer driving behaviour' (Saffron, 1982, Naatanen and Summala, 1976). Driving skill is fairly easily obtained and reasonably adequate in most drivers. Choices that drivers make have more influence on safety than actual skill in handling difficulties, however. The choice to overtake on double lines or to maintain high speeds rather than leave a more desirable margin for safety have a great impact on the difficulties likely to occur. Driving behaviour of this sort is considered to be a frequent cause of traffic accidents (Saffron, 1982).

Driving behaviour is strongly influenced by the attitudes of one's family, peers and other significant persons (Saffron, 1982, Parker et al., 1996). It is difficult for individuals to simply change their behaviour alone. There is a need to influence certain sorts of behaviours on a social level. For this reason, dealing with behaviour, beliefs and attitudes in a group context is important. If individuals can see that others just like them are also undergoing the same process they will have more courage and conviction to follow it through themselves. If the group itself works towards a framework of acceptable and appropriate behaviour they will be more likely to live by it than if it is imposed on them from elsewhere. The group has a strong social effect, and a well guided and facilitated process which encourages reflective thinking, analysis of implications and attitudes and works out an understanding and appropriate assessment of the context of public roads can produce lasting changes in behaviour.

The consequences of not tackling these aspects of driving are of some concern. The rise in traffic infringements, continuing high rates of crashes and fatalities on the roads, and increased incidents of aggressive behaviour and talk of `road-rage' in the media, indicate that the directions research, police and media campaigns and so on have taken are not sufficient to deal with the problem. The high incidence of crashes involving young people is alarming and the community is demanding that `something be done about it'. Many initiatives are underway and it is clear that a number of approaches need to be taken (RTA Report, 2000). Very few approaches, however, have involved any focus on the social/ cultural aspects of driving.

Some social awareness of attitudes, expectations, beliefs and assumptions and the role these play in the driving experience is important. This can be achieved by providing forums where drivers can think through as a group, important aspects and consequences of accepted driving practices and bring into focus and question some of the prevailing attitudes and beliefs. Carefully controlled media campaigns can also aid a greater focus on thinking and bringing into focus appropriate attitudes and beliefs.

There is a need for an overall cultural change and reflection on our uses of the roads. Technology has brought about major changes in vehicles, roads and traffic management but drivers themselves and their expectations and attitudes have received less attention. Drivers learn from other drivers and what they see going on around them. We need to create opportunities to `stop and think' about the purposes and practical implications of convenient, safe travel on our roads.

While we can make an impact on young drivers as they start to gather experience on the roads it is necessary to relate what is being impressed upon them to the broader community too and create expectations there about how people behave on the roads and how the issue of driver's expectations, attitudes and beliefs can be dealt with.

Social responsibility is just as important as individual responsibility and likely to have a stronger impact on individuals. A reassessment of our expectations around road use, given improvements and developments which do not solve all the difficulties, and in some cases create more, is long overdue.


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Sarah Redshaw is Project Director, Driving Cultures, School Histories and Futures, University of Western Sydney, Nepean.
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Author:Redshaw, Sarah
Publication:Australian Journal of Social Issues
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Nov 1, 2001
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