Background Regulation of driver behaviour relies on driver compliance with traffic laws to maintain traffic flow while ensuring safety. However, levels of compliance with the law vary within and between drivers, and across different settings (cities, rural areas, countries). Other influences on driver decisions include probability of a crash, likelihood that offences will detected, and need to conduct a trip without undue delay. The concept of ‘pragmatic driving’ is proposed as a conceptual framework for these influences, and is defined as ‘driving behaviours that achieve personal mobility aims while optimising perceived safety and enforcement risks, regardless of the legality of the behaviours involved’.
Objective To qualitatively explore the concept of pragmatic driving as the first step in a broader project that will lead to the development and cross-cultural validation of an questionnaire tool.
Methods In-depth interviews with nine drivers with Australian driver licences; several scenarios were explored, including factors influencing the decision to stop at a red light or go through, behaviour when entering roundabouts, and compliance with school zone speed limits. Interviews were recorded and analysed separately by two researchers.
Findings There was variation in reported levels of adherence to the law between participants, and within participants across scenarios, and in response to the risk of a crash, the likelihood of being detected committing an offence, traffic conditions and time pressure. Participants also expressed a desire for reciprocation and acknowledgement of courteous non-obligatory behaviour. Participants who had driven in other countries offered reflections on the differences they observed.
Conclusion Pragmatic driving is a useful concept for encompassing both compliance with regulations and less formal patterns of driving, both within and across countries.
Policy implications A pragmatic driving questionnaire based on this research would shed light on the kinds of intervention that would contribute to greater compliance and safer driving.