Episode 2 - Are we better drivers?

A look at driver behaviours and attitudes during the holiday season.

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Show notes

We discuss how peak motoring group RACQ is training senior school students to stay safe on the road. The panel also looks at what's going on with driver behaviours and attitudes.


  • Steve Spalding, RACQ Head of Technical and Safety Policy
  • Rebecca Michael, RACQ Head of Public Policy
  • Dave Webber, RACQ Education Officer


You're listening to RACQ Living.

Anthony Frangi: Hello, and welcome to this special episode of RACQ Living. I'm Antony Frangi. I love to drive long distances, especially during the holiday season, and how we behave can have a dramatic effect on reactions from other road users. Here's a question for you. Are we better drivers in 2018? In today's podcast we look at driver behaviour and attitudes, especially around the holiday season.

Anthony Frangi: Is there an increase in road rage, are there more distractions to overcome, and what do we need to know when heading off to the country? Shortly, you'll hear from RACQ experts on road safety and road safety behaviour, plus a couple of helpful tips to get us through this holiday period.

Anthony Frangi: First, how are we training our teenagers today on the pros and cons of driving? The RACQ has put together a teaching program preparing young people for their future driving experience. The RACQ Docudrama is a senior school road safety education program that is offered free of charge to Queensland secondary schools. I headed off to Kimberley College at Carbrook, south of Brisbane, to find out more.

Anthony Frangi: Dave, here we are at Kimberly College. It's a wet old day. What will the students experience today?

Dave Webber: Yeah, so the students they all file out and they all, they come across and there's this crashed car, there's fake blood everywhere. There's a few students sprawled in and out of the car, they try to figure out what happened and who's at fault, and then before they know it police and ambulance and a funeral hearse are all on scene. It's all happening and ...

Anthony Frangi: It's very realistic, isn't it, because you've got makeup on the students, you've got the windshield that's been pushed in, there's blood everywhere.

Dave Webber: Hmm. Yeah.

Anthony Frangi: What sort of reaction do you get from students? Because you do this on a ... Well the RACQ does this, what, on a weekly basis?

Dave Webber: Yeah, we do it once or twice a week. What we find is that the students, they first start laughing. Because it's not something you see every day and they're not actually sure how to react. But then as the scene continues to play out you can really see the weight of the scene start resting on their shoulders, and they really do just become real sombre, really quiet, and it's really good to see. The whole point of this program is to give them some knowledge about the Fatal Five, and then choices that they have and the choices that they make, but we also really want them to walk away with some preventative and reactive strategies as well, so we're all about empowering students, not scaring or shocking them in any way.

Anthony Frangi: Some of them would be learning to drive now, wouldn't they?

Dave Webber: Yes. Yeah, most of them are, they're in Year 12. Year 11s, they're jumping in and grabbing lifts with their friends, but, yeah, they're all either in cars or driving their own.

Anthony Frangi: All right. It's about to get underway so let's listen to what happens.

Police actor: You need to step away. Sit down, stay there.

Police actor: Who was driving the vehicle?

Student actor: Me.

Police actor: Have you been drinking?

Student actor: Yeah, last night, but it would be out of my system by now.

Police actor: How many did you have to drink?

Student actor: I don't know, couple beers.

Police actor: Were you speeding?

Student actor: I don't ... Maybe, yeah.

Police actor: What speed were you doing?

Student actor: Ninety, I think.

Police actor: What's her name?

Student actor: Katie.

Police actor: Come on, Katie. Paul, have we got a pulse?

Paramedic actor: There's no Pulse. She's in flat-lining.

Police actor: Injury is incompatible with life. Time of death, 10:35.

Anthony Frangi: Keira and Sophie, we've just witnessed a tragedy here as part of the RACQ Docudrama. What's going through your mind?

Sophie (student): It's pretty realistic. It was really realistic representation of what could happen on the road, and, I don't know, pretty confronting.

Anthony Frangi: And what about you, Keira?

Keira (student): Well, the situation kept on escalating, so there was the ambulance that showed up, and then the hearse, and it was just quite shocking, yeah.

Anthony Frangi: What was the most powerful moment for you, watching that from start to finish?

Keira (student): The most powerful point isn't the actual scene itself, it's the fact that I know those people who are the actors.

Anthony Frangi: Because they're your classmates, aren't they?

Keira (student): Absolutely, yeah.

Anthony Frangi: You're both learning to drive at the moment?

Keira (student): Yeah. I'm on my learner's.

Anthony Frangi: Having watched that today, and on your learner's, how does it change things for you?

Keira (student): I didn't originally feel like I was going to get hurt on the road, like it was one of those, oh, yeah, I'm in the car, I'm safe. But seeing that, it's ... You know, need to be more aware on the road.

Anthony Frangi: What about for you, Sophie?

Sophie (student): I feel like a lot of people have that complacent attitude, thinking it's not going to happen to me, and I guess you can't really imagine it until you've seen the circumstances first hand like that. So, yeah, I guess it's going to make me a lot more aware on the roads, and hopefully push me to be a safer driver.

Anthony Frangi: That's Keira and Sophie, from Kimberley College, two students touched by the RACQ Docudrama.

Anthony Frangi: I asked you earlier if we're better drivers in 2018. In today's podcast, we look at driver behaviour and attitudes, especially around the holiday season.

Anthony Frangi: Steve Spalding is Head of Technical and Safety Policy at RACQ, Rebecca Micheal Head of RACQ's Public Policy, and Dave Webber is the RACQ's Education Officer.

Anthony Frangi: Welcome, everyone.

Rebecca Michael: Thank you.

Steve Spalding: Thank you.

Anthony Frangi: Steve, let me ask you first. Do you think we're better drivers in 2018?

Steve Spalding: I think there are certainly more challenges on being a driver in 2018. I wouldn't say that we're particularly better drivers, because I think each period of driving brings with it its own challenges and skill requirements. Certainly, cars are very much easier to drive. It's more technology to reduce the driving task, but there's also more distractions in the vehicle, so I think it's just a shift of skills.

Anthony Frangi: Yeah. They tell us that cars have become much smarter today. David, you go out to schools on a weekly basis. You educate the children about safety, and about all elements of car safety. What messages are you hearing about driving today on roads, and the ability to drive well?

Dave Webber: It's hard. There's so many cars on the road, so many distractions. They got their phones going off, they're trying to find the right station. They are aware of how tough a task it is to learn driving and to master driving, so that's what we're finding out, is that these young people, they know that it's a tough physical and mental task to master.

Anthony Frangi: How much of their driving future is going to be influenced by their parents, do you think?

Dave Webber: I think a lot. They watch their parents, they've been watching them ever since they got in the car. They're always watching, and they are consciously and unconsciously picking up their behaviours and their attitudes, and even things like if parents are distracted they're going oh, that's not such a bad thing, Mum and Dad do this all the time.

Anthony Frangi: Yeah.

Dave Webber: You know, Dad's had a couple of drinks, and he's started driving. He's my dad, I look up to him, I respect him. If that's fine with him, that's fine by me as well. They're always watching.

Rebecca Michael: I agree with Steve that there's more challenges to driving today, but I think that drivers are probably more aware of what constitutes good driving behaviour. Whether they follow that or not is an entirely different thing. We're aware of the benefit of seat belts, what are the dangers of drink driving, of speeding, those kinds of campaigns probably really increase people's knowledge and education about good driving, but unfortunately when you look at the road toll and the number of instances that we have on our roads, whether that's translating into good driving behaviour across the board, I think the jury's out.

Anthony Frangi: Yeah, that's a really, really good point that you add. I mean Easter is a particularly bad time of the year. Statistics show that. We're in a rush to get to our destination. We want to spend as much time as we can having those four days off. But, Steve, if the campaigns don't appear to be working, or if the statistics show that Easter and other holiday periods are challenging, what is that saying about getting behind the wheel and our ability to drive today?

Steve Spalding: Well, I think in many instances it comes back to driver responsibility, and that's often something that drivers don't like to hear about.

Anthony Frangi: David talked about distractions, and that the high school kids notice those distractions, mobile phones for example. Let's go through the list. Mobile phones, are they still an issue today?

Steve Spalding: Absolute issue.

Anthony Frangi: I mean all the technology that we have that these smart cars come ... Why can't they just tell us you're on the phone, I'm turning the car off?

Steve Spalding: And there's no reason why that technology could not be in the vehicle or in the phone. It's taking that bold step, whether it be the vehicle manufacturer or the phone company, to apply that switching off. I think consumers would push back, and that's certainly something that would worry those manufacturers.

Anthony Frangi: Now, Rebecca, you're nodding, nodding, nodding, so you agree here.

Rebecca Michael: Absolutely. I think when you're looking at Easter and other holiday periods, they're not in themselves any less dangerous. We just have so many more drivers on the road, and like Steve said there's a greater responsibility to do the right thing. With any kind of environment that's at congestion or at capacity, the likelihood of something going wrong increases, so we do need to take that responsibility and be really mindful.

Rebecca Michael: When it comes to mobile phones, yes, that technology would be available, but at what level of intervention are consumers prepared to tolerate by their government?

Anthony Frangi: Well, that's right. I mean how much responsibility are we taking away from the driver? And I guess, David, that's the point that you raised in going into these schools and giving them those messages. Kids live and breathe by mobile phones today.

Dave Webber: What we're finding out is that there's such a strong chemical reaction and dependence on your phone, and even more so for a young person. To tell them don't text and drive is so hard, on a chemical, biological level.

Anthony Frangi: Steve, we've just gone through another summer here in Queensland. It was pretty hot. It was wet in many parts of the state, as well. Is road rage continuing to be a growing problem, or do you think we've kind of plateaued down, we've just got to sort of maintain those messages that it's wrong?

Steve Spalding: Well, it's ever present, but I think it's certainly more visible or aware than it's ever been.

Anthony Frangi: Yeah.

Steve Spalding: I mean in some ways it's just a reflection of the pressures of modern-day living, but really the behaviour should be no different to whether you're in a supermarket or a restaurant. You don't go around yelling at people, you don't go around barging and pushing them out of the way, and there's no reason why you should change your behaviour and drive like that when you're on the road.

Dave Webber: One of the reasons it's so easy to get road rage, and get angry and frustrated at other drivers, is because we all deep down believe we're a better driver than we actually are, or we believe that we're a better driver than that person doing that, they just cut us off, I can't believe they didn't indicate, and so that's where this sense of injustice comes from, because I would never do that.

Anthony Frangi: Now we know that any day of the week up and down the coast of Queensland we'll see our cyclists on the road. I don't know about you, Steve, but it's hard to pick up a newspaper or go online today and not read a story about an incident between a motorist and a cyclist. Has that increased, do you think, or is it ... And I guess what are the factors, are we seeing more cyclists on our road, are we being inconsiderate towards motorists or cyclists? I mean where do you see all this at the moment?

Steve Spalding: Well, it's clearly more cyclists. There's more cycling activity, and there's real benefits, I think, in having a range of transport options.

Anthony Frangi: Yeah.

Steve Spalding: But really, I suppose what sits over that is this constant visibility around conflict that you see from time to time between these road user groups or individuals.

Anthony Frangi: Are you a cyclist?

Steve Spalding: Very, very little. So, I do ride a motorcycle, I do drive a car ...

Anthony Frangi: Oh, you ride a motorcycle. Now, when you're on the motorcycle, compared to the car, do you notice a difference in behaviour?

Steve Spalding: I find that it's important as a rider that you need to properly own that road space, or your safe bubble, as it were, that when you are riding, because that is really your safety margin.

Anthony Frangi: Hmm.

Steve Spalding: Because we know there is vulnerability around cyclists and motorcycles. It's not around ... It's not an issue of who's right or wrong.

Anthony Frangi: Hmm.

Steve Spalding: It's really just understanding that the physics are different, and if you have a crash you will come off second best.

Dave Webber: Yeah. Cycling and scootering, you know, little scooters that they've got now, it's definitely on the increase, and so we're definitely trying to get our safety messaging out there to those little ones. Yeah.

Rebecca Michael: The safest way to share the road is separated infrastructure. So in my department, that's the policy outcome that we are pursuing.

Anthony Frangi: What do you mean? You mean actually having a separate strip ...

Rebecca Michael: A cycle lane.

Anthony Frangi: A cycle lane.

Rebecca Michael: Yes, that's right. Designated infrastructure.

Anthony Frangi: Yeah.

Rebecca: If you can go one step further and separate that infrastructure, in other words the cycle lane is divided in some way from the main corridor, then that increases the safety to cyclists, but also to motorists as well, by having that separation. We pursue that as a policy outcome, to try and improve the safety on the road.

Anthony Frangi: Is there a push for more separation on our roads? Because that can be costly, can't it?

Rebecca Michael: It is, it is costly.

Anthony Frangi: To rip up a road or to change the design of a road.

Rebecca Michael: Absolutely, there is a push for more separation from both motorists as well as the road managers, as well as cyclists. It is a costly exercise. It's one that we will slowly get through over time as the infrastructure is replaced or expanded, but in the meantime it all comes back to that consideration and respect.

Steve Spalding: There are so many distractions in the car during driving, so whether it is the phone that David spoke about, it's the kids in the back, yelling, it's the dog trying to run around, it's traffic signs, it's billboards, it just goes on and on and on, but it's really about us as individual drivers, or riders, that we do stay focused, and that ...

Anthony Frangi: How do we do that, given all those distractions? I mean do you have any tips of how we can stay focused on the road, especially when we've had a particularly bad morning, maybe we've left home in a bit of a mood, a bit of a state? I mean how do we get back into focus?

Steve Spalding: Well, I think a deep breath before you get into the car and start the engine is always a good starting point. If you've had a stressful day at work, I think you run out the office and you jump in the car, I think it's easy to carry all that emotional load of the day. So if you can even walk around the block a couple of times, or take a deep breath and then just try and relax on that journey home.

Dave Webber: Probably one of the best things we tell our young people, back on phones, just briefly, because that is probably the most distracting object, is we say you've got two choices, fight or flight. And this applies to everyone. You can choose to fight the temptation to respond to that phone, open that message, change that song, or you can choose to put your phone on flight mode.

Anthony Frangi: Wouldn't it be wonderful if your car could do that automatically? Hello, welcome, enjoy your journey, your phone is now in flight mode.

Steve Spalding: And there's no reason why the cars could not do that now, and some of them do have the ability to isolate those distractions. We have the ability to turn that phone off, or put it on silent, or put it in the boot of the car. The unfortunate thing is that for many of us we choose not to do that, and we think that we can manage the driving task and the distraction, but we simply can't.

Dave Webber: It's just interesting how you mention that, too, because I said before at the start how young people are aware that of the dangers, they are, they are aware of how dangerous the activity is of driving, but because we've driven every single day, we've been doing it for ten, twenty years, we forget that it is a complicated and dangerous activity. So it's that complacency breeds overconfidence, and we don't really respect the ... Yeah, so ...

Anthony Frangi: And that's a really interesting point. I wonder ... This is a question for all of you. I wonder how much we can learn from young ones today. You're right, because we've been driving, we're all getting old here, let's be honest, we've been driving a long time. We probably have some habits that we'd like to knock ourselves out of. What can we take away from young ones?

Dave Webber: In a sense, regain our youth and our love for and wonder of driving.

Anthony Frangi: Yeah.

Dave Webber: You see them, learners, and especially you see them focused, two hands on the wheel, they're looking, they're doing everything they can to prove to mom, dad, the driving instructor I'm safe, I'm mature, I'm responsible, I just want to go to McDonald's by myself, let me go through the drive through. I just want to leave you at home. And I think we can regain that sense of love for driving, but also a healthy respect.

Anthony Frangi: Do you think most older drivers are aware of their limitations, Rebecca?

Rebecca Michael: You know, when you look at statistics, 17- to 24-year-olds, particularly males, are grossly overrepresented in fatalities and serious injury. That particular age group is still developing, and potentially is more prone to certain types of behaviours that is they're working their way through, and unfortunately at the same time are also driving. I think once you get a lot older, and I guess you start to have physical impairment, again, I'm maybe not as convinced that they're as aware of the impact of that physical impairment on their ability to drive. I think there's a sweet spot in the middle that people that are sort of are driving at. I'm hoping it's this panel's sort of age group.

Steve Spalding: I think in many cases it's easy to blame another road user group, so whether it's an age-related thing, whether it's gender, whether that they're a local, or an interstate, or a foreign driver, or it's a truck or motorcycle, cyclist, sometimes though it's about saying well, wait a minute, what could I do differently, really how good am I, how much or how up to date is my road knowledge, do I keep my skills up to date, and that's certainly an issue for motorcyclists, that constant refreshing of riding skills. So I think sometimes it's about taking a good, hard look at ourselves, first.

Anthony Frangi: We focused a lot on capital city and provincial areas of the state, but what about in rural areas of Queensland? Stephen, do you see any difference in driving behaviour when we're either living in rural areas or whether we're traveling and decide to, say, go on a holiday around the state?

Steve Spalding: Well, often the speeds are much higher in regional areas, and the distances are greater, so there's more of a, I suppose, a need, if you like, for some to travel faster for longer periods. That, of course, introduces an additional element of fatigue that you probably don't see too much of an issue around the metro areas. I think for those regional drivers, it's about making sure that you are very much aware of the roads, the road conditions, how long you've been driving for, and how long you've been working for before you start driving, so that you are taking proper breaks and not putting yourself at risk.

Anthony Frangi: Hmm.

Rebecca Michael: I think the rural and regional roads are a lot less forgiving, so we need to be mindful that the way, exactly like Steve said, the distances and the speeds that you travel at, the roadside sort of hazards that are present on a lot of rural and remote roads, and a lot of them are unsealed, and that they're a lot more unforgiving, so when there is an incident generally the outcomes are more catastrophic, and that's something that they need to be mindful of.

Dave Webber: We'd like to think that driving schools in those particular areas would address the needs of the particular kids living in that city, or town, but definitely like what Steve was saying, fatigue is huge amongst young people. They stay up late, and then they have to make their way home. So whenever we travel and we go out to these smaller towns and these smaller school communities, we spend a lot of time talking about fatigue and fatigue management.

Anthony Frangi: Steve Spalding, Rebecca Micheal, David Webber, thank you for joining us.

Rebecca Michael: Thank you.

Dave Webber: Thank you.

Anthony Frangi: If you would like more information on any of the stories raised today, email us at roadahead@racq.com.au.

Anthony Frangi: I'm Anthony Frangi. Join me next time for more RACQ Living.