Predicting road offending: The effect of formal, informal, and vicarious deterrence mechanisms

Mr Eslam Hassan1, A/Prof. Lyndel Bates1, A/Prof Justin Ready1, Dr Rebecca McLean2

1Griffith Criminology Institute and School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Griffith University, Mt Gravatt, Australia
2Department of Preventive and Social Medicine, Otago Medical School, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand

Deterrence theory is the traditional framework to underpin road policing practices. This study used classical deterrence theory, Stafford and Warr’s (1993) reconceptualised theory and informal deterrence theory to explore a sample of Queensland drivers’ self-reported offending driving behaviours. A self-reported survey methodology was used to collect information on how drivers perceive certainty, severity and swiftness of punishment, driving behaviour, punishment avoidance experiences and friend’s and family’s punishment experiences, and how drivers would feel when they break road rules. This study included a convenience sample size of 623 participants. Females constituted 43.8% (n=273) of the sample and males were 55.1% (n=343). The mean age of the sample was M=42.06 (SD= 18.91), and it ranged between 16 and 80 years old. Informal deterrence had a statistically significant negative effect on offending driving behaviour, suggesting that social sanctions, the fear of internal loss, and material loss would have a more significant deterrent impact than formal deterrence. Direct punishment avoidance predicted offending driving behaviour through the process of reduced levels of perceived certainty of punishment. Indirect punishment avoidance was also a significant predictor, indicating that individuals are more likely to offend when family members or friends engage in offending behaviour without being caught and punished. Drivers will continuously engage in those behaviours if they frequently avoid detection or knew someone who had avoided detection. Practical implications are that continuous enforcement efforts and mass media campaigns could effectively increase awareness and public perceptions by convincing drivers that such behaviours are dangerous and socially unacceptable.


Eslam is a PhD candidate in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Griffith University. He completed his master’s degree in civil engineering and transportation engineering from Griffith University, Australia, with outstanding performance and received Griffith Award for Academic Excellence in 2018. He has interests in transportation engineering, road safety and traffic law enforcement. Eslam’s PhD is looking into reducing driving offending behaviour from the deterrence theory perspective.


Dec 08 2021