Young driver behaviour under the microscope

Date: 04/11/2002

A new $500,000 research partnership will examine the impact of car advertising, gender and social attitudes on the behaviour of young drivers in New South Wales.

The University of Western Sydney's (UWS) Centre for Cultural Research and the National Roads and Motorists' Associtation Limited (NRMA) will find out why young people drive the way they do in a project called Transforming Drivers.

NRMA CEO, Mr Rob Carter, said the NRMA became involved with the project because too many young drivers are killed or injured in car crashes.

"With 17-20 year old drivers three times more likely to be involved in a serious crash than drivers over 21, we need to gain a better understanding of what's influencing their behaviour," Mr Carter said.

Last year, 2,451 17-20 year old drivers were killed or injured on NSW roads.

"As well as looking at the influence of car advertising and other media, the project will also examine the role that gender and culture play in influencing the way young men and women drive," Mr Carter said.

"This is an innovative approach because the focus is on the broader environment - not just on the unsafe behaviours in isolation."

The University's Transforming Drivers Project Director, Ms Sarah Redshaw, said the project aims to encourage young drivers to think about what influences their driving.

"Car handling skills aren't necessarily the problem, it's more often social attitudes. Getting a licence is like a social rite of passage. Aggressive and competitive driving is common and there's a general acceptance of things like speeding," Ms Redshaw said.

"Young drivers identify strongly with the cars they drive. Men prefer vehicles that project a smart, sleek or macho image and tend to drive them accordingly, while women see cars as a powerful and mobile space they can control.

"TV advertisements often reflect the underlying social or cultural attitudes associated with car ownership, so discussing these ads in workshops will give us an opportunity to examine the social attitudes that influence driving," she said.

"We'll be holding workshops in Sydney and regional centres over the next two years, and asking small groups of young drivers - including those about to get their learner's permit - what messages they get from these commercials," Ms Redshaw said.

UWS chief investigator on the project, Dr ZoŽ Sofoulis, said many advertisements feature a car alone on a road, whereas driving is actually a very social experience.

"Driving involves constant interaction with other drivers on busy roads. Young motorists need to understand that they would rarely, if ever, have a road to themselves, and should adjust their driving behaviour accordingly," Dr Sofoulis said.

"We will also look closely at the issue of gender in driving. Young men and women will be questioned on what impact elements like social identity or risky behaviour have on their respective driving patterns. These influences offer us the greatest opportunity to change driver behaviour," she said.

"We hope Transforming Drivers will lead to new and innovative strategies for driver education programs by getting young drivers to think about whether cultural or other factors influence them when they're behind the wheel," Dr Sofoulis said.

Mr Carter said that the Transforming Drivers project would contribute to the knowledge about a key risk group in road safety that has proven difficult to influence worldwide.

The partnership will aid the NRMA in designing new programs that mean something to young people and can influence their behaviour.

"NRMA already has a number of programs in place for young drivers including the multi-milion dollar interactive RoadZone exhibition, the award winning Shift and the Getting There booklet for learner drivers and their parents," Mr Carter said.

The Transforming Drivers initiative will run for three years, and is funded through an Australian Research Council Linkage grant, UWS and the NRMA.

Media Enquiries:
Shane McClelland NRMA Media 02 9292 8418, 0411 012023
Angela McIntyre UWS Media 02 9678 7424, 0419 244595