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Alcohol Restrictions for Novice Drivers
NL Haworth, L Bowland and W Foddy
Accident Research Centre, Monash University, Clayton, Victoria 3168, Australia
Telephone interviews of 800 novice drivers aged under 25 addressed alcohol restrictions and other components of graduated licensing systems. Fewer drivers from Western Australia (WA) and New South Wales (NSW) than other States reported an alcohol restriction as a condition of the first licence. Overall, 91% of drivers agreed with the alcohol restriction. Males and drivers with trade training were less likely to agree with the restriction. About 15% of drivers said they had sometimes drunk alcohol before driving when on their first licence. Drink driving was twice as common in WA, more common in males and in drivers with trade training.
The alcohol restriction encouraged drivers to drink nonalcoholic drinks, to travel with friends or take a taxi or public transport when going out at night. Males were more likely than females to report that the restriction prevents or sometimes prevents them going out at night.
About 85% of drivers reported that the penalty for drink driving was suspension or cancellation of the first licence. Almost three-quarters of drivers suggested that avoiding major roads would reduce the possibility of being detected when drink driving. The survey failed to show any strong relationship between level of enforcement and compliance.
Alcohol restrictions for novice drivers are a frequent component of graduated licensing schemes. A graduated licensing scheme was one of the elements of the 10-point road safety package announced by the then Prime Minister in December 1989 as part of the Federal Government's Road Safety Initiative, for adoption by States and Territories. The components of the Graduated Licensing Scheme included two alcohol restrictions: zero blood alcohol concentration (BAC) for learner drivers and zero BAC for the first three years after obtaining a non-learners licence up to 25 years of age.
At the time of the survey reported here, all States and Territories had alcohol restrictions for at least the first year of licensing and all States except Western Australia had alcohol restrictions for learner drivers. As Table 1 shows, what is often termed "zero BAC" is zero in some jurisdictions and .02 in other jurisdictions.
A telephone survey was conducted to examine the effects of graduated licensing on novice drivers. The sample consisted of people aged under 25 who had obtained their driving licence within the previous two years. Interviews of 100 males and 100 females were conducted in each of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia. Those respondents who had obtained their licence in a State other than the one in which they were interviewed were subsequently dropped from further analyses to avoid problems of interpretation. This reduced the sample size from 800 to 783.
Table 2 summarises the characteristics of the sample. Overall, about 60% of the sample held a probationary or provisional licence (hereafter termed a first licence). The proportions of the sample which held a full licence differed among the States because of the different lengths of the first licence periods. In New South Wales and Western Australia, about two-thirds of the sample held a full licence. In Victoria, very few respondents held a full licence. In South Australia, about a quarter of the sample held a full licence.
Because of the variations in minimu licensing ages among States, drivers from different States had different mean ages. Drivers from Victoria were older on average than respondents from the other States (Tukey-HSD procedure, see Table 2). Drivers from New South Wales were older than those from South Australia and Western Australia.
KNOWLEDGE OF RESTRICTIONS
All respondents (including those on full licences) were asked about the restrictions applying to first licences and their experiences while holding a first licence. The most commonly reported restrictions were "not drink alcohol before driving", "display P-plates" and "don't exceed speed limit". Reporting of alcohol restrictions was low in Western Australia (42.8%) and in NSW (53.3%). In contrast, 89.3% of Victorians and 83.2% of South Australians reported the alcohol restriction. The need to display P-plates was also reported by only about half of the Western Australian respondents. Mentions of speed limits were much less common in Victoria, where the speed limit for first licence holders is the same as for other drivers.
Females were less likely than males to report the alcohol restriction (63.5% vs 71.1%). Drivers who usually drove someone else's car were more likely to report the restrictions "not drink alcohol before driving" (71.6% vs 64.3%, X2(1)=4.6, p<.05), and "have to carry licence" (12.7% vs 6.3%, X2(1)=9.4, p<.01) than drivers who usually drove their own car.
RESTRICTIONS ON DRINK DRIVING
Respondents were asked a range of questions regarding restrictions on drink driving. Firstly, they were asked whether they agree with the restriction and, whether they agreed or not, they were asked what should be the duration of the restriction. Drivers were then asked about the social costs of the alcohol restriction. Degree of compliance was assessed by asking how often respondents drove after drinking alcohol as a first licence holder. A series of questions on perceptions of enforceability followed: whether they had been breath-tested, their rating of risk of being apprehended, how to avoid being caught and knowledge of the penalties for drink driving.
AGREEMENT WITH THE ALCOHOL RESTRICTION AND ITS DURATION
Overall, 91.4% of drivers agreed with the restriction on drinking alcohol before driving. The proportions did not differ according to State, time since licensed or whose car is usually driven. However, agreement with the restriction was more widespread among females than males (95.4% vs 87.4%, X2(2)=16.4, p<.01). Drivers with some (or completed) trade training were less likely to agree with the restriction than other drivers (see Table 3, X2(6)=20.9, p<.01).
Whether they agreed with the restriction or not, drivers were asked how long they felt that the alcohol restriction should apply. The responses of drivers from different States varied (X2(15)=297.2, p<.01). Drivers from Western Australia preferred a shorter period of restriction than drivers from other States. Drivers from Victoria tended to prefer a longer restriction. This is in line with the actual legislation in those States.
Drivers' preferences about the duration of the alcohol restriction were unaffected by time since licensing (X2(15)=18.2, p>.05) and level of education (X2(15)=19.7, p>.05). Females, on average, chose a longer period of restriction than males X2(5)=20.8, p<.01).
SOCIAL COSTS OF THE ALCOHOL RESTRICTION
Overall, 3.8% of drivers said that the restriction on drinking alcohol prevented them going out at night and 3.1% said this sometimes occurred. However, 89.9% of drivers said that the restriction did not have this effect. This pattern was not affected by State, highest level of education, whose car usually driven or months licensed. Males were more likely than females to state that the restriction on drinking alcohol before driving prevents or sometimes prevents them going out at night (14.7% versus 5.5%, X2(2)=18.0, p<.01).
The most common effects of the restriction were to encourage the drivers to drink nonalcoholic drinks, travel with friends or take a taxi or public transport when going out at night (see Table 4). Drivers who had been licensed for 7 to 12 months and those who usually drove someone else's car were more likely to identify the need to use family transport when going out as a consequence of the alcohol restriction. Drivers from South Australia and Victoria and those with trade training were more likely to use a taxi or public transport. In contrast, Western Australian drivers, males, those who usually drove their own car and people who were licensed for less than 6 months were more likely to get someone else to drive them home in their own car. The reverse was true for those with college or university education. Victorians and females were more likely to drink nonalcoholic drinks instead.
COMPLIANCE WITH THE ALCOHOL RESTRICTION
Overall, 14.9% of drivers said they sometimes drank alcohol before driving as a first licence driver. Compliance with the alcohol restriction differed among States and according to sex, educational level and whose car is usually driven. Drinking alcohol before driving was more common in Western Australia than in the other States (25.3% of drivers, X2(6)=26.0, p<.01).
Drivers who had been licensed longer were more likely to report drinking alcohol before driving (X2(8)=20.9, p<.01). Males were three times as likely as females to report that they sometimes drank alcohol before driving (22.4% vs 7.6%, X2(2)=35.1, p<.01). There was a tendency for drivers with trade training to be more likely to drink drive than other drivers (X2(6)=11.4, p<.08). Table 5 shows that more than a quarter of those with trade training had drank alcohol before driving on some occasions.
People who usually drove their own car were more likely to drink alcohol before driving than people who usually drove someone else's car (X2(2)=15.3, p<.01): 19% of drivers of their own car had drank alcohol before driving on some occasions compared with only 9.3% of people who drove someone else's car.
Drivers who drink alcohol before driving were no less likely to report the restriction on drinking alcohol before driving than those who complied with the restriction (X2(2)=2.0, p>.10). Thus, reduced compliance did not result from lack of knowledge of the restriction.
PERCEPTIONS OF ENFORCEABILITY - ALCOHOL RESTRICTION
Respondents were asked whether they had been stopped for random breath testing while a first licence driver. Interpretation of the data was complicated by the differing lengths of time that the alcohol restriction applies across the States and the differing lengths of time for which the driver had held a licence. The probability that a first licence holder would be tested during a one year period was calculated, taking these issues into consideration. The yearly rate of random breath testing was similar in NSW (0.56) and Victoria (0.54) and somewhat lower in WA (0.40).
Ratings of risk of being caught drink driving were not found to be affected by whether the person had been breath tested as a first licence driver (t(781)=-1.45, p>.1). Ratings were similar across States and were unaffected by level of education.
The proportion of drivers who were displaying P-plates at the time of breath testing differed among the States (X2(3)=10.8, p<.05). Western Australian drivers were much less likely to have been displaying P-plates (78.4%) than drivers in other States (88 to 97%). The proportion of drivers displaying P-plates when stopped for random breath testing was similar for each level of education.
The Police were much less likely to ask to see the drivers licence in Victoria (36.3%) than in the other States (60 to 72%). The likelihood that Police asked to see the drivers licence differed according to the level of education of the driver (X2(6)=26.7, p<.01). Drivers with some secondary education or trade training were more likely to be asked to show their licence (76.1%, 71.4%) than drivers who had completed secondary school or had some college or university education (58.7%, 40.0%).
When drivers were asked what the penalties were for drink driving as a first licence holder, the most common responses were suspension or cancellation of licence (86.6%) and fine (29.0%). Drivers from Western Australia and New South Wales were less likely to nominate licence suspension and cancellation and more likely to not know the penalty. They were also more likely to nominate the lesser penalty of loss of demerit points. Drivers from Western Australia were also less likely to nominate extension of the first licence period or a fine.
Drivers with college or university education were more likely to report extension of the probationary period as a penalty for drink driving (X2(3)=9.5, p<.05). Drivers who had some or completed trade training were less likely to nominate a fine as a penalty for drink driving (X2(3)=8.7, p<.05).
Drivers who reported the penalty of suspension or cancellation tended to give higher ratings of the risk of being caught by Police if drink driving than drivers who did not report this penalty (4.5 vs 4.0, t(781)=1.92, p<.06). Ratings of risk of detection were similar for those drivers who reported a fine as a penalty and those who did not.
Drivers were asked what they could do to avoid being caught by the Police if they were driving after drinking. The most common strategy suggested was to "avoid major roads" (72.4%), while 7% of drivers recommended "obeying all road laws".
About one-third of drivers said that they did not display P-plates "all of the time" when they had a first licence. Degree of compliance with the P-plate requirement varied across States (X2(6)=51.9, p<.01). Compliance appeared to be lower in Western Australia and New South Wales than in Victoria and South Australia.
The importance of displaying P-plates is that it facilitates enforcement of other restrictions relating to first licences. There is some concern that young drivers are not displaying P-plates in order to avoid detection while breaking the alcohol restrictions. Analysis of the data showed that there was a relationship between the frequency with which P-plates were displayed and how often alcohol was drunk before driving (X2(4)=83.1, p<.01). Those drivers who drank and drove were less likely to display P-plates "all of the time" than those who never drank and drove (37.7% vs 73.3%, see Table 6). In addition, drivers who display P-plates less often were less likely to report the restriction on drinking alcohol before driving (X2(2)=17.4, p<.01).
CONCLUSIONS ABOUT THE EFFECTIVENESS OF ALCOHOL RESTRICTIONS
The results of the survey suggest that the effectiveness of the zero BAC restriction may be limited. Knowledge of the restriction, as measured by reporting it as a restriction, was surprisingly low in Western Australia and New South Wales. About 15% of drivers had failed to comply with the restriction, including about double this percentage in Western Australia. Almost three-quarters of drivers thought they could avoid breath testing by avoiding major roads. Most drivers identified social costs of the restriction but 91.4% agreed with it.
The survey failed to show any strong relationship between enforcement and compliance. Levels of enforcement (as reported by drivers) were no lower in Western Australia where the rate of noncompliance was much higher. Experience of being breath tested did not appear to increase estimates of the risk of being caught drink driving (if someone had been drinking).
The Graduated Licensing Survey reported here formed part of the Evaluation of Australian Graduated Licensing Schemes (Haworth, 1994; Haworth, Bowland and Foddy, 1994), one of the components of the Young Driver Research Program which Monash University Accident Research Centre undertook for the Federal Government's Road Safety Research Initiative.
Haworth, N.L. (1994). Young driver research program: Evaluation of Australian graduated licensing schemes (CR136). Canberra: Federal Office of Road Safety.
Haworth, N.L., Bowland, L. and Foddy, W. (1994). Graduated Licensing Survey - Technical report and data (CR139). Canberra: Federal Office of Road Safety.
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