Study investigates driver behaviour

Published 17 February 2006

A new Southern Cross University research project will investigate the impact of billboard warning signs and roadside memorials on driver behaviour.

Ms Kerrie Dennis, a PhD candidate with SCU's Department of Psychology at the Coffs Harbour campus, is in the initial stages of the three-year project.

Ms Dennis said the high number of road fatalities on the Pacific Highway had prompted her to investigate the effectiveness of roadside signs in altering driver behaviour.

"A lot of the psychological research surrounding driver behaviour has looked at distractions within the vehicle, such as mobile phones. But the research has not looked at what is going on outside the car and how that impacts on drivers," Ms Dennis said.

"This study will hopefully lead to increased road safety in this region, and throughout Australia."

Dr Steve Provost, who is supervising the study, said that some warning signs were intended to elicit anxiety in order to encourage appropriate behaviour such as slowing down or taking breaks.

Examples of this strategy include the 'grim reaper' signs outside Grafton, the 'number of deaths, injuries and crashes' sign at Woolgoolga, and roadside crosses and memorials.

"Unfortunately, a number of well known psychological principles suggest not only that people will differ greatly in their response to signs but that maintaining an anxiety response is likely to be difficult," Dr Provost said.

Ms Dennis said the study would be conducted in a controlled laboratory environment, and would determine the extent of individual differences in the responses.

"Young people are over-represented in the road fatalities and so are older people. I will be looking at the three different age categories and if their reactions are the same."

In the later stages of the study, the results will also be tested in a driving simulation context.

"I will be collecting data in the next three months and will be looking for licensed drivers of all ages to participate."

Media contact: Brigid Veale SCU Communications Manager, 66593006 or 0439 680 748.