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Drug Driving – What the research shows

The NSW government statistics on drug driving deaths released this week by NSW Police Minister Stuart Ayres revealed that in the past four years, at least 166 people died on NSW roads in crashes involving motorists with illicit drugs (cannabis, speed and/or ecstasy) in their system. That represents 11 percent of all road fatalities in NSW. In fact, Mr Ayres reported that 40 percent of drug driving offences and fatal crashes involved a drug driver under the age of 30.These statistics highlight a serious safety problem on our roads.

This correlates with previous AIC research which has shown that many offenders in police custody have a dangerous attitude when it comes to taking drugs and driving.

Our 2008 report Drug driving among police detainees in Australia authored by Kerryn Adams, Lance Smith and Natalie Hind used data from the AIC’s Drug Use Monitoring Australia program. The researchers examined the prevalence of drug driving among a sample of 1,714 police detainees in 2005 and 2006. If the levels of drug use seem particularly high, remember the people surveyed were a specific sub-set of the general population—they had been detained or arrested for offences including drug offences.

The study found that two-thirds (65%) of detainees had reported driving after using drugs and/or alcohol in the previous 12 months, which is significantly higher than the incidence of drug driving in the general population.

When it comes to drug driving rates in the general population, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s 2010 National Drug Strategy Household survey shows the incidence of drug driving reduced slightly from 25 percent of males surveyed in 2007 to 21 percent in 2010, and similarly for females from 14.4 to 13.2 percent. This still highlights a problematic attitude to driving under the influence of drugs.

Our 2008 report shows that in terms of the frequency of drug driving, detainees who reported driving after using heroin were most likely to report doing so at least once a week (62%). For other types of drugs, comparable figures were:

  • cannabis—58 percent
  • amphetamine/methyl amphetamine—50 percent
  • benzodiazepines—32 percent
  • alcohol—25 percent
  • cocaine—15 percent
  • alcohol + any of these drugs—29 percent.

The majority of detainees reported that drugs had a negative impact on their driving ability—of all drugs, benzodiazepine users rated that drug as most likely to have had a negative impact on their driving ability (85%). Consistent with past findings, detainees reported that drugs such as heroin, cocaine and alcohol also severely affected driving ability.

At the same time, there were detainees who appeared dangerously deluded about the effect of drugs on their driving abilities. Nearly three-quarters of detainees who had driven after using cocaine reported that being under the influence ‘never’ affected their driving; 68 percent of detainees who drove after using cannabis and 59 percent who drove after using amphetamine/methylamphetamine shared this view.

High rates of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs were observed, despite the fact that the majority of detainees reported that being under the influence had a negative impact on their driving ability.

While half of the amphetamine/methylamphetamine using drivers who reported an impact on their driving ability said it was ‘negative’, worryingly, 22 percent reported that it actually had a positive impact. Similarly, 15 percent of cannabis using drivers who reported an impact stated that it was positive. Alcohol was reported to have a negative impact on driving ability by 60 percent of drivers. Despite public education on the impacts of drink driving, nine percent reported an improvement in driving ability when under the influence of alcohol.

Of those detainees who had driven a vehicle in the preceding 12 months, 249 (21%) reported that they had failed to stop when requested by the police. Male detainees were more likely to report failing to stop for police than female detainees (22% vs 12%).  

While only a relatively small number of detainees (95 individuals) reported being involved in a high-speed pursuit in the previous 12 months, more than one-half of these self-reported being under the influence of amphetamine/methylamphetamine (57%) at the time of the pursuit. These findings are consistent with past research, which links the effects of amphetamine/methylamphetamine and the propensity for some individuals to become involved in aggressive driving behaviour, such as police pursuits. It has been suggested that amphetamine/methylamphetamine users may be attracted to police pursuits for the same reasons they use the drugs—a desire for excitement and risk-taking behaviour. In addition, 41 percent of detainees involved in high-speed pursuits reported being under the influence of cannabis and 29 percent under the influence of alcohol at the time of the pursuit.

The AIC is again looking at drug driving attitudes using new data collected through Drug Use Monitoring Australia Program and will report findings in the new year. Other relevant information may come from the 2013 AIHW National Drug Strategy Household Survey, which is expected to be released in late 2014.

Posted: 14 August 2014 | | | | | |

2014 Student Criminology Forum

Either the high quality of our annual student forum is becoming more recognised in the Tertiary sector, or this year’s advertised program hit the mark for many Australian criminology and law students, because over 200 students from all over Australia registered their interest.

As usual, it was a real pleasure to see so many engaged young criminologists come and ask our staff intelligent and well-judged questions during the seminars and workshops.

Presentations were tailored to not only examine crime types, but to also explore tricky issues around research.

Deputy Director (Research) Dr Rick Brown asked the presentation staff to highlight areas where methodologies and research design threw up difficulties, or where results may not be applicable to policy – and what to do then?

So students heard how we approach problem solving, and sometimes deal with results that don’t match client expectations.   

Videos of some student forum presentation are now available on CriminologyTV, and here are some photos of the seminars and workshop sessions:

And if you didn’t make the short list for this year’s event, keep checking Facebook and Twitter for the announcement of the 2015 registration process, in March - April next year.

Posted: 29 July 2014 | | | | | |

CriminologyTV encore of the crime prevention keynotes

Last month over 250 violence and crime prevention researchers and practitioners converged at the Melbourne Convention Centre. We heard keynotes and papers across a wide spectrum of topics on the prevention of crime and violence – problems that are at the forefront of social instability, poor health outcomes, family dysfunction, and social dislocation, not to mention the immense cost to the community in terms of economic loss, and the cost of justice and corrections.

The keynote addresses of this major conference are now available on the AIC’s CriminologyTV.

Several keynote speakers presented on some of the best crime prevention outcomes from the past 20 years: for example the opening address was from Scottish violence prevention expert Karyn Mccluskey on her policing and intervention programs that are successfully tackling the culturally engrained gang problems that made Scotland one of the most violent countries in Europe.

From the US, Professor Richard Catalano, Professor for the Study and Prevention of Violence, Washington University, discussed the suite of Communities that Care programs which are used around the world to help communities themselves intervene to prevent crime and poor health outcomes. Professor Catalano addressed the evaluations of programs that have proved successful.

The challenges of a broad-based change-management program  were discussed by Superintendent Bruce Bird, New Zealand Police National Crime Prevention Manager who ensured crime prevention was directly embedded into the operational policing tool-kit available to NZ police.

On violence against women, Heather Nancarrow, Chief Executive of Australia's National Research Organisation for Women's Safety (ANROWS), took delegates through the policy past and into the policy future of countering domestic violence, and the task ahead for ANROWS.

Professor Nick Tilley, Director of the University College London Security Science Research Training Centre, led delegates through his rich trove of research and personal insight and experience on problem solving, policing, and situational crime.

Dr Julie Rudner, from the Community Planning and Development Program, La Trobe University,  took delegates through the paradox  of risk and safety in public places and “How safe is ‘safe enough’”.

Image: Professor Richard Catalano

Many other conference presentations are available on the AIC website where you can read many presentations: from exponents of Crime Prevention through Environmental Design; research into CCTV; the night time economy and community empowerment. There are also presentations from local governments such as the cities of Sydney and Melbourne on their projects to make their communities safe, and presentations from crisis and health centre practitioners and a plethora of other crime prevention exponents.

And photographs of the event are available on our Flickr page:

Posted: 11 July 2014 | | | | | |

New AIC Crime Prevention Handbook to Tackle Property Damage 

Business groups and local governments are always looking for the best methods to prevent vandalism against property, whether the damage is caused by tagging with spray paint, break-ins aimed at trashing a property, or window smashing.

Such malicious property damage serves no purpose, but it has an estimated cost of $1,522 per incident (in 2012 dollars) and a total cost to the Australian community of nearly $2 billion each year.

The cost is borne not only by private property owners, local and state governments and businesses, but is also passed on through insurance costs to the public.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ Crime Victimisation Survey 2011–2012, malicious property damage was more common than any other property offence, with 7.5 percent of respondents reporting having been a victim in the previous 12 months.

The Australian Institute of Criminology has just released a national guide: Tackling property damage: A guide for local commerce groups, councils and police in support of the Government’s broader Safer Streets program.

While many categories of crime are on the decline, an unfortunate fact is that property damage – vandalism and graffiti - still remain an intractable problem for property owners, business and local governments.

The guide highlights good research, planning, consultation and evaluation measures, with different strategies for specific problems.

This guide helps local groups understand:

  • the importance of crime data and where to find it
  • how to analyse local problems
  • enhancements that can be made around the built environment and security, and
  • evaluating the solutions.

Under the Government’s Safer Streets Program the intention is to provide communities with tools to assist them to develop the best local strategies to prevent crime and anti-social behaviour.

This step-by-step guide compiled by the AIC provides a plan to develop strategies for commercial groups and local Governments to head off the possibility of property damage of all kinds.

Image: An example of graffiti

Based on work commissioned by the NSW Government’s Department of Attorney-General and Justice, the AIC, through its Crime Prevention ASSIST program, has broadened the content of this handbook to assist property owners around Australia.

This is a valuable reference and guide for community commerce groups, chambers of commerce, and local governments everywhere in Australia.

By AIC Deputy Director (Research), Dr Rick Brown

Crime Prevention ASSIST website

Posted: 1 July 2014 | | | | | |