Enforcement, monitoring and detection programs are key to increasing compliance with road rules and reducing risky road use.
Australia’s approach to enforcement – deterrence
Australia’s enforcement approach is supported and complemented by significant road safety community education programs run by policing agencies. These include education programs for school children at various ages, as well as programs for adults through businesses, targeted road user groups and community groups.
Deterrence theory is the driving force for enforcement programs targeting several high-risk behaviours including drink and drug driving, speeding, mobile phone use and seatbelt non-use. Individuals will avoid offending if they fear the consequences and perceive they will be caught, the severity of the sanction and how quickly it is applied after the behaviour is exhibited.
The adoption of the general deterrence model that anyone could be caught ‘anywhere, anytime’ is critical for drivers to adopt safe road behaviours.
Deterrence can be general or targeted.
General deterrence is structured around those who are not currently offending and occurs when an individual refrains from engaging in offending behaviour due to the belief there is a good chance they will be caught. This is generally achieved as a result of understanding or observing others being punished for the offending behaviour. Enforcement methods can include a highly visible police presence, and the use of a mixture of overt and covert operations. Individual knowledge or understanding of potential apprehension and penalties can also be reinforced through media campaigns or community engagement.
Targeted deterrence can be understood as the process whereby an individual apprehended and punished for a criminal act refrains from further offending for fear of incurring further or more severe punishment. Within a road safety context, using an example of the application of legal sanctions for a drink driving offence, there are a number of purposes of an enforcement approach, including punishment and reform through to loss of license, fining or incarceration. These measures can also be applied across a broad spectrum of risky behaviours such as using mobile phones, driving while fatigued, not wearing a seat-belt or helmet, and speeding. There is a growing body of evidence demonstrating that sanctions have the capacity to reduce the likelihood of re-offending among a range of motoring groups and for a range of driving-related offences.
Social pressure, cultural and social norms, stigma, peer and social sanctions may produce positive changes in driver behaviour, which can be augmented by traditional legal sanctions to form an overall system of deterrence. Overall, research has found the implementation of deterrence‑based approaches can create lasting behaviour, attitudinal and cultural change, in regards to high-risk driving behaviours. 1 For example, underpinned by deterrence theory, Australia’s random breath testing (RBT) strategy is credited as the primary reason why Australia’s reduction in alcohol-related crashes over the years is the envy of many international jurisdictions.
Deterrence theory in practice – roadside drug testing
Australia’s roadside drug testing is a key example of deterrence in practice. Its long-term goal is to provide the foundation for broader long-term behavioural and social change. Roadside tests deter individuals from driving while illegal drugs or alcohol are present, if they fear their offending behaviour will result in a penalty. Not only has the deterrence theory and its associated approaches been the foundation of jurisdictions’ current roadside drug and alcohol testing programs, it is cornerstone to the development of future strategies, operations and legislation in this area.
Enforcement statistics – random breath testing and roadside drug tests
- There were 15,456,397 random breath tests conducted in 2019 across Australia, and of those 0.4% were positive.
- In 2018, there were 142 deaths from crashes involving illegal blood alcohol concentration (BAC).
- There were 507,207 roadside drug tests conducted in 2019 across Australia, of those 10% were positive.
- In NSW, ACT, SA and Tasmania combined there were 174, 589 roadside drug tests conducted in 2018, and 96 deaths involving an illegal drug.
Source: Bureau of Infrastructure and Transport Research Economics
 Davey & Freeman (2010) Improving Road Safety through Deterrence-Based Initiatives: A review of research.