ARSRPE Conference Paper Database

How effective is deterrence theory in explaining driver behaviour: A case study of unlicensed driving

Enforcement & Penalties


This paper reports the results of a study undertaken to examine the predictive utility of deterrence theory in explaining unlicensed driving behaviour. The study was based on a cross-sectional survey of 309 unlicensed driving offenders interviewed at the Brisbane Magistrates Court. The dependent variables in the study were the reported frequency of unlicensed driving and the offenders intention to drive unlicensed in the future. The findings provide minimal support for classical deterrence theory. This perspective suggests that drivers will be deterred from driving unlicensed if they perceive a high likelihood of apprehension, and if the resulting penalties are perceived to be sufficiently certain, severe and swift. However, these variables accounted for minimal variance in the two dependent variables. In contrast, more support was found for an expanded model of deterrence that included the construct of punishment avoidance. Over and above this, the prediction of both dependent variables was significantly improved by the inclusion of various psychosocial variables drawn from social learning theory including: exposure to models who drive while unlicensed and hold positive attitudes to the behaviour; personal attitudes to unlicensed driving and alternative behaviours; and the perceived rewards and punishments associated with the behaviour. At a theoretical level, the results support the proposition that deterrence theory can be subsumed within a broader social psychological perspective. At an applied level, the results suggest that there is a need to improve enforcement practices to reduce instances of punishment avoidance, and to better address the psychosocial factors that contribute to illegal driving behaviours like unlicensed driving.