Reducing Road Offending Behaviour Using an Integrated Deterrence-based Model

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Bates, Lyndel J

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Ready, Justin T

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Road safety is a challenging problem for most countries including Australia. Reducing the road toll is a challenging goal and a shared responsibility that requires joint efforts between all levels of government, law enforcement agencies, individuals, and communities. There are many reasons for road crashes including environmental conditions, road conditions, and vehicle factors. However, the human factor plays a significant role. In Australia, the human factor includes drivers’ behaviours such as excessive speeding, drink driving, driving under the influence of drugs, reckless and deliberate risk-taking driving, distracted driving behaviours, driver fatigue, running red lights, and failure to wear seat belts. Deterring illegal driving behaviours is an important policy area for policing. The true rate of traffic offences is likely far greater than for other types of illegal activities; indeed, with respect to some types of offences, e.g., exceeding speed limits, an “everyone does it and few get caught” view likely pervades the public mind. What deters individuals from road offending behaviour is, therefore, an important question. Exploring the effectiveness of deterrence for drivers is therefore important and a key gap in the literature to be explored. In the road policing context, deterrence theory is the traditional framework used to develop enforcement initiatives and countermeasures (Bates et al., 2012; Fleiter et al., 2013). Previous research has considered the classical deterrence theory, Stafford and Warr’s (1993) reconceptualised deterrence model and informal deterrence individually (Allen et al., 2015; Freeman et al., 2020; Homel, 1988; Kaviani et al., 2020b; Piquero & Paternoster, 1998). This program of research had four main objectives to reduce road offending behaviours. The first objective was to develop an integrated deterrence-based model. Thus, this research took a nuanced approach by integrating three predominant deterrence models, namely classical deterrence model, Stafford and Warr’s (1993) reconceptualised deterrence model, which extends the original focus on direct experiences with punishment to direct experiences with punishment avoidance as well as indirect experiences with both punishment and punishment avoidance and the most recent extension, informal deterrence. The second objective was to use the integrated deterrence-based model to explore the self-reported driving offences among general drivers and traffic offenders, separately. The third objective was to explore other factors and theoretical constructs that influence road offending behaviour and how these factors influence deterrence mechanisms. The last objective was to test the integrated deterrence-based model on a specific driving offence, the illegal use of mobile phones while driving, to determine what influences this distracting behaviour. This program of research tested the integrated deterrence-based model with other theoretical constructs in three separate but interrelated studies. In the first study, the integrated deterrence model was tested with sensation seeking to examine the interconnections between deterrence principles and sensation seeking among a group of general drivers. The second study builds on the first study. In the second study, traffic offenders were identified from Study 1 and the integrated deterrence model and perceptions of risk were tested to predict repeat traffic offenders. The final study in this program of research was designed to provide insights into how traffic offenders perceive Queensland’s most recent deterrence-based intervention of mobile phone detection cameras to deter the illegal behaviour of mobile phone use while driving among a group of traffic offenders. The integrated deterrence-based model was a significant predictor of self-reported traffic offences. The results highlight the significant influence of punishment avoidance on self-reported road offending behaviours and mobile phone use. In all three studies, direct punishment avoidance had a negative deterrent effect on the offending behaviour among general drivers and traffic offenders. Informal deterrence was another key significant finding. The threat of social sanctions in the form of feelings of shame and embarrassment, losing family or friends' respect and the fear of material sanctions were predictive of reduced offending behaviour on the roads for general drivers and traffic offenders. Despite the importance of this finding, informal deterrence did not influence the specific offence of self-reported mobile phone use among traffic offenders. None of the classical deterrence variables influenced the self-reported offending behaviours on the road for general drivers and traffic offenders. Most importantly, these results show that traffic offenders are not influenced by their previous punishment experiences for traffic offences. However, only the construct of the severity of punishment influenced the specific offence of self-reported mobile phone use among traffic offenders. The results regarding other theoretical constructs were significant and equally important. For example, this research highlights the role of sensation seeking on traffic offending behaviours. Sensation seeking was measured using a general sensation seeking scale and a driving specific sensation seeking scale and both scales significantly predicted the self-reported offending behaviour among general drivers. In particular, the driving-related sensation seeking scale was more influential and accounted for a higher percentage of the variation in self-reported offending behaviour than the general sensation seeking scale. A significant mediation relationship was observed between sensation seeking and road offending behaviour through punishment avoidance. More importantly, direct punishment avoidance partially mediated this relationship which suggests that direct punishment avoidance has a high tendency to be present when sensation seeking is high, and the drivers’ desire to increase the intensity of their experiences may covary or fluctuate with experiences of direct punishment avoidance. Further, this research highlights the importance of exploring the role of perception of risk on levels of offending. There were significant negative correlations between perceptions of risks and self-reported offending behaviours among repeat and infrequent traffic offenders. Additionally, perceptions of risk mediated the relationship between direct punishment avoidance and levels of road offending that could result in reoffending. Similarly, perceptions of risk mediated the relationship between informal deterrence and levels of road offending. The results highlight that informal sanctions imposed previously on traffic offenders would allow them to see those offending behaviours as high risk and potentially deter them from re-offending. In addition, the perceived safety of using mobile phones while driving was another significant finding in this research. The results from this research highlight the importance of understanding the effects of perceptions of safety on the illegal use of mobile phones while driving. This program of research has a number of practical implications for road policing. Firstly, regarding limiting punishment avoidance events, drivers will continuously engage in risk-taking behaviours and traffic offences if they frequently avoid detection. Therefore, it is important for police operations to ensure that every detection is punished. Further, relying on automated enforcement measures to detect road offences is important in reducing the occurrence of punishment avoidance. Highly visible police operations and implementing warning and police presence signs are important measures to stimulate perceptions of the likelihood of apprehension. This will generate and sustain a general deterrent effect and reinforce the idea of safer driving behaviours. Secondly, this research highlights the importance of looking beyond punishment to identify other methods of increasing awareness and encouraging compliance. Road safety policies including advertising campaigns and educational programs that focus on behavioural change towards road offending could be effective in reducing road offending behaviour. Widely spread advertising campaigns can emphasise the risks associated with various road offending behaviours and explicitly inform drivers that engaging in such behaviours has negative consequences. Maybe this time you got away with it, but next time you will not. During police interactions, officers might take the initiative to simulate consciousness and thoughts around the risks associated with dangerous driving. For example, when a speeding driver is being pulled over, police officers might inform drivers about the severe risks and recent statistics of road crashes resulting from speeding. Police officers might also emphasise that it will not be safe every time. In addition, it is a great opportunity for police officers to inform drivers that it is morally wrong and unacceptable to engage in risky driving behaviours and simulate consciousness and thoughts around morality and norms. Overall, this program of research has shown the importance of using an integrated deterrence model in road policing. Given classical deterrence variables did not predict road offending behaviours, it is important to include Stafford and Warr’s reconceptualised deterrence model as well as informal deterrence mechanisms to better understand the offending behaviours on the roads. In addition, the inclusion of sensation seeking, perceptions of risk and safety perceptions showed significant improvements to the integrated deterrence-based model and had important practical and theoretical implications.

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Thesis (PhD Doctorate)

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


School of Crim & Crim Justice

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Road Offending Behaviour

Deterrence-based Model

Road safety

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