26 July 2012

DUI Frighteners

The AIC has released a 160 page report [PDF], under the National Drug Law Enforcement Research Fund, on Evaluating the deterrent effect of random breath testing (RBT) and random drug testing (RDT) — The driver’s perspective.

The project involved a mixed methodology -
  • review and a qualitative component guiding development of a survey to assess the deterrent effect of random breath testing and random drug testing, 
  • a quantitative component measuring the influence of various law enforcement practices on a driver’s decision to drink/drug drive. 
It centred on identifying the law enforcement practices that have the greatest deterrent effect on drivers who consume alcohol and/or drugs, and who indicate they are likely to drink drive and/or drug drive in the future. In particular it measured RBT and RDT practices from the driver’s perspective rather than from law enforcement activity reports, on the basis that a driver’s perception is more likely to influence behaviour than enforcement activities that are unnoticed by drivers.

Key findings of the qualitative research are that
  • Many participants indicated they would know if they were over the legal alcohol limit for driving, albeit many relied on intuition rather than knowledge. By contrast, many said that when it came to drugs they would not really know what it feels like to be over the limit because there is little knowledge about how long one would need to wait before one could drive after consuming drugs. 
  • Many marijuana smokers indicated that they would drive regularly after smoking marijuana and that driving while affected by marijuana was less dangerous than driving under the influence of alcohol. However, many gave accounts of driving under the influence where their driving ability was severely impacted by the drug. 
  • Although many drivers were aware of RBT on the roads, they did not see RBT as random. Most indicated they knew when and where RBT was conducted on the roads. Drivers reported that ‘booze buses’ were visible generally late at night and early mornings on the weekends, and usually in the same locations, making particular mention of testing taking place during long weekends and holiday periods. Drivers indicated that there was a greater chance of being tested by mobile police, although many believed they would know the places and times this testing was likely to be undertaken. 
  • Participants were generally unaware of the specific aspects of RDT, with many drivers unaware if RDT was being undertaken in their jurisdiction. Drivers from Queensland appeared to have lower awareness of RDT compared with drivers from NSW and Victoria. Participants also believed that there was a very low chance of being tested for drugs while driving, due to the lack of resources. There was the perception that they would only be tested if visibly displaying signs of the effects of drug use. 
  • Many drivers said that they would drive while under the influence of alcohol if it was only a short trip, with drivers reportedly evaluating the chances of being caught against driving somewhere they felt they ‘needed’ to go. Participants also reported driving the next day after drinking when there was a likelihood they were still over the legal limit. 
  • Perceptions of whether someone would ‘get caught’ by RBT were mixed. Even though many drivers believed that RBT was not random, there were many drivers who felt the police were a ‘visible presence’ and that there was a ‘real chance’ of getting caught if they drive over the legal alcohol limit. However, other drivers felt the police were not a ‘visible presence’ on the roads, there was no need to be worried about being tested, or that there was a very low chance of being tested (especially regarding drugs) In general, participants felt there was no ‘real chance’ of being tested for drugs. 
  • Some drivers said that RDT was not currently working as a deterrent on the roads and that it needs to be more widespread to be effective. Others mentioned that testing was visible at certain times of the year but questioned whether it was worth RDT being visible throughout the entire year. 
  • Most drivers were able to mention television advertising campaigns for alcohol and drugs, particularly mentioning the hard-hitting and graphic nature of these ads. However, although some felt these ads were effective, others mentioned these ads probably miss the mark with younger people, as young people see themselves as being invincible and may socialise with people who consistently and repeatedly drink/drug and drive (and go undetected by police, or who are not penalised for drink driving). 
  • Many drivers felt that the government should spend money and invest resources in alcohol and drug testing on the roads. There were some who felt there are too many drivers being pulled over for drink driving, suggesting that drink driving remains a serious community concern and that more should be done. Others mentioned that the fact there are so many drivers out there driving under the influence means the anti-drink driving message isn’t getting through and that perhaps the money allocated to drink driving campaigns is not being well spent. 
Key findings of the quantitative research are that -
  • drink drivers are more likely to be male, aged between 26 and 35 years, and regular alcohol users. They are more likely to be in a defacto relationship, working full-time or self-employed. 
  • Drug drivers are more likely to be male, aged between 26 and 35 years, and regular cannabis and/or ecstasy users. They are also more likely to be in a defacto relationship and working full-time, self-employed, a stay at home mum/dad or a student. 
The report considers the deterrence value of law enforcement practices, concluding that
collectively perceived credibility of the program, perceived enforcement of the program, reported visibility of police testing, randomness of police testing, publicity of police testing and a driver’s knowledge of penalties, significantly influence a driver’s decision to drink/drug drive. The most crucial aspects of the drink/drug driving programs, in terms of having the greatest deterrence value to drink/drug driving were perceived credibility and enforcement. 
 In relation to drink driving credibility issues surrounding whether a driver (or someone they know) had been caught for drink driving and penalised or ‘let off’, had the greatest influence on a driver’s intention to drink drive in the future, relative to the influence of visibility, randomness, publicity, and knowledge of penalties. Drivers who have had a personal experience with being tested for alcohol (or know someone who has), and perceive avoiding police interception to be difficult, are less likely to drink drive in the future.

In the case of drug driving, credibility and enforcement had an even greater impact on a driver’s intention to drug drive, when compared with the impact of these measures on a driver’s intention to drink drive. Drivers who have had a personal experience with drug testing and perceive avoiding police interception to be difficult, are less likely to drug drive.

The report suggests that perceptions of the accuracy of police testing devices play a role in a driver’s decision to drink/drug drive. It goes on to comment that publicity is likely to have greater deterrence value to those who intend on drink/drug drive if followed up with increased police testing activity (personal experience with being tested).

The report notes the usual  avoidance strategies reported by drivers, including -
  • the use of backstreets, either to avoid driving on roads the driver believed would be typical police testing sites, or to avoid a stationary booze/drug bus that was seen by drivers on the road ahead. 
  • avoiding police interception by receiving a phone call from a friend about police testing at a specific site. 
  • consuming a substance or food helped disguise any alcohol/drug content in their mouth. 
The report concludes that a specific deterrence strategy is more likely to influence a driver’s decision to drink/drug drive.
Although the data suggests that visibility, randomness and publicity (general deterrence strategies), have less deterrence value to drink/drug driving in the driver population surveyed relative to the deterrence value of credibility and enforcement (specific deterrence strategies), it is important to consider the aims of general and specific deterrence. General deterrence strategies remain important in maintaining general compliance within the general driving population, whereas, specific deterrence strategies aim to impact the drink/drug driving intentions of a specific high-risk driver group. The specific deterrence strategies recommended in this report should therefore be implemented in conjunction with, not in place of, current general deterrence law enforcement activities.