Driver Attitude to Speeding and Speed Management: A Quantitative and Qualitative Study - Final Report


Prepared by:
EKOS Research Associates Inc.

Prepared for:
Transport Canada
Motor Vehicle Safety Directorate
Road Users Division

May 2005
TP14756 E

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This study, which was conducted during the months of March and April 2005, examines relatively broad aspects of drivers' attitudes to speeding. Specific issues explored in the study include overall perceptions of road safety; the extent to which drivers speed and why; knowledge and awareness of the potential impacts of speeding; as well as drivers' reaction to support for potential measures aimed at reducing speeding on Canada's roads.

The research methodology for this study was two-fold. The first component of the study involved a telephone survey with a random sample of 2,002 Canadians, 16 years of age and over who had driven a motor vehicle in the past month. This survey was completed between March 16th and April 5th, 2005. The survey data were statistically weighted by age, gender and region to ensure that the findings are representative of the Canadian population aged 16 and over. With a sample size of 2,002, the results may be considered accurate to within +/-2.2 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

A total of 12 focus groups comprised the second component of the study. These focus groups were conducted in six centres across Canada with drivers 16 years of age and older who drive at least once per week. The purpose of the qualitative component of the study was to inform the survey results and to provide guidance for the potential development of a public awareness and education campaign.

Key Findings

Overall findings reveal that Canadians view speeding as dangerous, and they associate it with increased risk of collision, injury and death. Economic impacts (e.g., increased fuel consumption) are also apparent to most, while potential environmental consequences are both more difficult to grasp and seen as less significant.

There appears to be little agreement among Canadian drivers regarding road safety trends. Survey respondents, for example, have mixed views regarding the safety and security of road travel in Canada (33 per cent feel it is less safe and 27 per cent think it is safer), while the majority of focus group participants are generally of the view that driving is becoming less safe. Despite this difference of opinion, many agree that speeding (47 per cent) and driver distraction (41 per cent) are the main causes of serious traffic collisions, along with impaired driving (27 per cent). According to Canadian drivers, four of the top six causes of traffic collisions on Canadian roads stem from conscious decisions made by those behind the wheel.

Overall, we find that the definition of speeding is elastic, that Canadians perceive themselves to speed much less than other drivers, and that their assessment and descriptions of their personal instances of speeding are often relatively benign. Seven in 10 drivers admit to exceeding the speed limit at least occasionally, particularly on highways (81 per cent). The average speeding amount is 12 kilometres over the limit on highways, 10 kilometres on two lane highways/country roads and 7 kilometres on residential streets. From a definitional standpoint, many people believe that while they might be “technically speeding,” they are not driving in a way that endangers either themselves or others. Moreover, one in two drivers (52 per cent) agrees that people should keep up with the flow of traffic regardless of the speed limit. It is also interesting to note that most people believe it is just as dangerous to drive 20 kilometres under the speed limit, as it is to drive 20 kilometres over it.

Those who have admitted speeding are most likely to do so because they do not want to be late (57 per cent), because they believe that speed limits are set too low (51 per cent) or because they are not paying attention to the speed at which they are driving (51 per cent). Only one in five drivers say that enjoying the feeling associated with driving fast has been a reason for them to speed (however, both the qualitative research and the regression analysis suggest that this factor is linked to the more extreme instances of speeding).

The results of the cluster analysis group Canadians into five distinct cohorts, with about 30 per cent of drivers falling into two groups of people characterized by their tendency to 1) speed more than other drivers, and 2) have less negative attitudes to speeding and its potential consequences. Drivers belonging to these two groups also travel at higher speed when they do drive over the limit. One group (the Risk-Takers) seems to want to speed because they enjoy taking risks and defying authority. In short, they enjoy it and they do it on purpose. The second group, Pragmatic Speeders, drive over the speed limit for more practical reasons: they want to get to their destination as quickly as possible. They are also conscious speeders.

Canadian drivers were also asked cite what they thought to be the main disadvantages of speeding. Consistent with other survey and qualitative results, we find that an increased risk of collision (cited by 54 per cent of survey respondents) is mentioned most often. This is followed by the greater risk of injury in the event of a collision and the risk of getting a speeding ticket (both cited by roughly one-third of drivers).

While nearly one in five respondents (18 per cent) think that speeding results in the use of more gas, few (just six per cent) were likely to cite adverse impacts to the environment (such as climate change and air pollution) as a consequence of driving at high speeds. Indeed, opinions and knowledge are clouded regarding speeding and its connection to climate change. While scientific evidence has demonstrated that speeding does indeed contribute to climate change, only about half of drivers (45 per cent) actually believe this to be true (and roughly the same proportion – 47 per cent – say this is false).

Notwithstanding the inclination of drivers to speed despite their awareness of the potentially negative impacts, there appears to be significant support for measures aimed at curbing speeding. The results show strongest support for the wider use of electronic roadside signs that warn drivers if they are speeding (72 per cent of survey respondents think this is a good idea), as well as in-vehicle electronic systems that indicate speeds over 110 km/hr (with the qualitative research suggesting an assumption on the part of many that such equipment would be optional or under the control of the driver). Both these approaches are seen as relatively innocuous and inexpensive, but also more likely to be effective with inattentive speeders as opposed to the more conscious and extreme speeders (i.e., the Risk-Takers and Pragmatic Speeders).

Many of the other speed reduction strategies are also considered sound. These include increased police enforcement (67 per cent) and “Black Box” technology to collect data for use in the investigation of accidents (62 per cent). (With respect to the latter, however, the qualitative research suggests its support is based more on its perceived worth as an accident investigation tool than its deterrent potential.) Lowering speed limits by 10 kilometres on two-lane highways and rural roads garnered the least amount of support from survey respondents and focus group participants alike: 58 per cent of survey respondents thought this particular speed reduction strategy was a bad idea, as did the majority of focus group participants.

There is significant support for a public awareness and education campaign aimed at reducing speeding, although it is worth reiterating that the qualitative research suggests that their might be greater support for an integrated campaign aimed at reducing all forms of dangerous driving, including speeding. To Canadian drivers enforcement appears to be the most effective to way to curb speeding in the immediate term, but to a significant group of drivers social marketing represents the best hope for a cultural change that would see speeding (and other dangerous behaviours) become socially unacceptable, and as a result, relatively rare.

As previously mentioned, the environmental impacts of speeding tend not to be top of mind, as a number of indicators reveal (e.g., only 45 per cent agrees that driving over the speed limit contributes to climate change). Most people are able to make the link with some prompting given their understanding of the positive correlation between speed and fuel consumption. This relationship appears crucial from a communications standpoint, in that messages about environmental impacts appear much more likely to be understood if they are tied closely to the more significant and resonant messaging about the financial impacts of speeding, particularly with respect to fuel consumption. Despite a lack of top of mind knowledge of the environmental impacts of speeding, however, it should be noted that 81 per cent of survey respondent say they are either extremely interested (55 per cent) or somewhat interested (26 per cent) in receiving information on ways of reducing the impact that speeding has on the environment.

Suggestions for messaging revolve around the three main categories of negative impacts of speeding (i.e., health, economic, environmental), conveyed by means of a combination of emotional and logical appeals. In terms of specific messaging, one of the key knowledge gaps appears to centre on the relationship between increased speed and risk (while holding contextual variables such as road surface conditions constant): How much does one's risk increase when they drive 120kms in a 100kms zone? What about 140kms? From an environmental standpoint, the key question is: What is the magnitude of the impact that the average Canadian driver (i.e., based on typical driving distances, types and speeds) has on the environment? How many trees is one "killing"?

The multivariate analysis suggests that communications efforts should focus on trying to change the attitudes and behaviour of the Risk-Takers and the Pragmatic Speeders because they pose the greatest danger. Given that their reasons for speeding are very different (and that these groups have very demographic characteristics) communications efforts should be tailored for each of these audiences. However, it is instructive to note that both these groups tend to diminish the increased probability of collisions, injuries or death as a result of driving over the speed limit, suggesting that this could be a common re-enforcing theme for these efforts.



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