Image of driving from view of car dashboard

Reversing the carrot and stick: Incentivising Better Driving Behaviour

11 April 2023
From our ‘Thinking outside the box’ series
In the lead up to the NSW election both parties were proposing to incentivise driver behaviour. Professor Stephen Greaves looks further into the issue.

The pre-election promises of opposition Labor and the Coalition to reward 'safe' drivers in response to a tenfold increase in speeding fines following removal of speed warning signs in 2020, has been met with scepticism by many in the industry claiming this does little to advance road safety and is simply a cheap vote-grabber before the upcoming state elections1.

Under Labor's proposal, motorists who commit a 'low-level' infringement but retain a clean driving record for a year would be able to win back a precious demerit point. Under the Coalition, motorists with a clean record, would be able to argue their way out of fines for infringements including low-range speeding, disobeying signs and driving in a bus lane.

While both proposals potentially underscore the seriousness of 'low-level' infringements and in the case of the Coalition, some might argue, condone risky behaviour - 'I can get away with it that one time' – the focus on incentivising better behaviour as opposed to penalising poor behaviour is nothing new. Experiments conducted in the Netherlands2 and Australia3 over a decade ago, demonstrated the potential for using rewards to improve driving behaviour.

In the Netherlands Beloniter speed trials of 2005, speeding was reduced by 20% by rewarding 0.04 Euros for every 15 seconds spent not speeding. In the Australian trials of 2010, three-quarters of motorists reduced their speeding following the introduction of an incentive scheme paying a few cents/km for every km spent under the speed limit.

While government efforts to incentivise better driving behaviour will likely continue to be met with scepticism due to their overtly political undertones, insurance companies competing for market share face no such constraints. Incentive-based products, where motorists can earn rebates back on their premiums, based on demonstrating 'good' driving captured through an in-vehicle tracking device are widely available overseas.

These products have typically targeted 18-25 year-olds, who constitute the highest risk, highest premium, most under-insured group. Despite the overseas experiences, no such offerings are available in Australia, with reductions only based on kilometres driven. Perhaps government could step in and be more proactive in this space, particularly through the mechanism offered through the mandatory CTP Green Slip program.

Sceptics claiming incentive-based programs are ineffective at achieving safety goals will continue to beat their drum arguing for higher fines, harsher penalties and more bone-jarring speed bumps to physically slow drivers down. The harsh reality is that no manner of penalties or obstacles will stop the 10-15% of habitual offenders who continue to deliberately flout road rules – the only option here is to take the car keys or the car itself away.

In-vehicle technology solutions aimed at actively or passively slowing drivers down were heralded as the silver bullet decades ago, but the reality is the typical car on today's road is still largely at the mercy of the driver with 'Autonomous Vehicles' largely confined to controlled environments and academic research.

While we might question the timing and motivation for the announcement of these two policies, let's not dismiss the thinking that putting a carrot out there for improving driving behaviour may reduce the need for continually wielding the stick.

Stephen Greaves, Professor of Transport Management, ITLS

  1. 'Undermine our road safety': promised rewards for 'safe' NSW drivers criticised by experts  The Guardian, 18 Jan 2023
  2. Mazureck, U. and van Hattern, J. 2006. Rewards for Safe Driving Behaviour: Influence on Following Distance and Speed, Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board, No. 1980, Transportation Research Board of the National Academies, Washington D.C., 31-38.
  3. Greaves, S., Fifer, S., Ellison, R. (2013). Exploring Behavioral Responses of Motorists to Risk-Based Charging Mechanisms. Transportation Research Record, 2386, 52-61.

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