This study aimed to explore the effects of situational variables and impulsiveness on drivers’ intentions to violate traffic rules among novice, less experienced and experienced drivers in China. Specifically, eight scenarios with manipulated variables, including time pressures (high and low), descriptive norms (positive and negative) and accident base rates (high and low), were randomly presented to 232 drivers. All independent variables, except the descriptive norm, were between—subjects designs. The results showed that hypothetical high time pressure and unsafe descriptive norm increased drivers’ intentions to commit violations, respectively. Moreover, the effects of situational factors and impulsiveness on their intentions to violate traffic rules depended on driving experience. Cognitive impulsiveness predicted the violation intention only of novice drivers, whereas the descriptive norm affected the intention of the remaining two groups. The stated accident base rate moderated the relationship between the descriptive norm and violation intention of experienced drivers, specifically, when the accident base rate was hypothetical high their violation intention relied more on descriptive norms. The results indicated that with increased driving experience, drivers became more sensitive to situational cues, less influenced by individual factors and, correspondingly, more likely to behave in a manner that was congruent with the surrounding situation and individuals. The potential applications for this research are the development of intervention and training programs specifically for drivers with varying levels of driving experience.
It is well established that human factors contribute to approximately 95% of traffic accidents (e.g., Reason et al., 1990; Abdel-Aty and Radwan, 2000), and driving violations are the main cause of traffic accidents in Western societies (Mesken et al., 2002) and China (Xie and Parker, 2002). Violations among Western drivers include aggressive speeding, breaking the speed limit, and drinking and driving (Parker et al., 1995). In addition to the violations mentioned above, there are distinctive violations in China, such as changing lanes illegally, using a non-motor lane during traffic congestion, stopping on the road in prohibited areas, and jumping a queue when there is congestion near a junction (Xie and Parker, 2002; Jiang et al., 2008). Convenience is a prominent characteristic of these violations, which commonly occur in the urban areas of China (Jiang et al., 2008). Hence, it is important to explore the factors affecting convenient driving behavior (violation for convenience) in the Chinese context.
In the field of psychology, researchers have attempted to explain traffic violations independently using different perspectives involving the physical environment (e.g., road width, and type of street; Björklund and Åberg, 2005), predisposition of the driver (e.g., demographic and personality characteristics; Jiang et al., 2008), and social psychology (e.g., attitude, social pressure; Xu et al., 2013). Because social context and individual predisposition can affect performance (Ajzen, 1988), integrating situational factors and personality can improve the effectiveness of psychology safety studies (Ulleberg and Rundmo, 2003).
In China, traditional cultural values and modern motorization provides a unique context for driving safety studies. First, there is substantial evidence showing differences in the social psychological characteristics between Chinese and Western societies generated by contrasting cultural values (Peng et al., 2006). For instance, the Chinese are more sensitive to contextual factors because of the situation based focus of their cultural experiences, whereas Westerners primarily attend to objects and rely on rules (Nisbett et al., 2001). Consistent with these observations, driving experiences in China and the US are clearly different (Huang et al., 2006; Zhang et al., 2006). In China, there are occasionally no consistent or obvious traffic procedures to follow (Huang et al., 2006).
Moreover, drivers in China must attend to the driving environment because there are more pedestrians and bicycles simultaneously competing for space. Therefore, social or situational factors are expected to contribute importantly within the Chinese context. Second,the increasing number of novice drivers is challenging driving safety because of China’s current rapid motorization (Zhang et al., 2006; Shi et al., 2010). Novice and experienced drivers differ in terms of driving skill, risk perception, and traffic accident involvement (e.g., Crundall et al., 1999; McKnight and McKnight, 2003; Smith et al., 2009; Tseng, 2012); drivers are also guided by different cues in traffic situations and involved in traffic violations for different reasons (Cestac et al., 2010).
Therefore, the following are the aims of the present study: (1) to examine the influence of situational factors on the intentions of Chinese drivers to violate traffic rules; (2) to examine the influence of personality on traffic violation intentions; and (3) to explore the possible varying effects ofthe situational and personality factors on traffic violation intentions because of different degrees of driving experience. Specifically, we used descriptive norms (Björklund and Åberg, 2005), time pressure (Adams-Guppy and Guppy, 1995) and accident base rate (Greening and Chandler, 1997) as situational factors, impulsiveness as a personality factor, and driving experience as moderators in our study. The results can contribute to the theoretical development of driving safety and intervention programs specifically for drivers with varying degrees of experience.
1.1. The descriptive norm
In transportation psychology, the behavior of other drivers in traffic environments can impact one’s driving intentions and behaviors (e.g., Wilde, 1976; Björklund and Åberg, 2005; Factor et al., 2007), which is a social influence process (Deutsch and Gerard, 1955). The mechanism of this process is individuals have the motivation to conform to social norms to get effective action or build and maintain social relationship (Cialdini and Trost, 1998). Socialnorms (also calledinformal rules;BjörklundandÅberg,2005) are “rules and standards that are understood by members of a group, and that guide and/or constrain certain social behavior without the force of law” (Cialdini and Trost, 1998, p. 152). Cialdini et al. (1990) distinguished two forms of social norms: injunctive norms (i.e., subjective norms) and descriptive norms. Injunctive norms describe the extent to which a behavior will be approved by other individuals in the social group (Cialdini et al., 1990) and have been extensively explored in the relative studies ofthe Theory of Planned Behavior (e.g., Elliott et al., 2005; Elliott and Thomson, 2010). Descriptivenorms refer to individuals’ perceptions of whatis commonly performed regardless whether they are morally correct or not (Cialdini et al., 1990). In a specific situation, the behaviors of others provide direct information regarding the effectiveness of the behaviors, and individuals can utilize the information to formulate wise decisions and endorse effective action, which is the influencing process of descriptive norms (Cialdini and Trost, 1998).
Regarding the traffic environment, the actions of the surrounding drivers commonly become a straightforward reference (e.g., if others would endorse a violation, one may believe that the violation is effective, easy and not risky; Forward, 2009). However, relatively few studies have examined descriptive norms in traffic andreportedconflicting results. For instance,descriptivenorms can successfully predict risky over taking intentions (Forward, 2009) but not speeding intention or actual speeding behavior (Forward, 2009; Elliott and Thomson, 2010). Cestac et al. (2010) identified descriptive norms as a significant predictor of speeding intention in young drivers. One possible reason for the inconsistent results might be the bias in the questionnaires, which typically asked the respondents to judge the percentage of surrounding individuals who would commit a violation in a specific situation. The percentage will be overestimated, especially for individuals who often commit violations (Taubman-Ben-Ari et al., 1999). Therefore, we designed scenarios to manipulate the specific traffic situation to avoid this bias. We predict the following as our first hypothesis:H1:Drivers will be more willing to commit traffic violations when in a negative descriptive norm condition (a traffic violation is common) than a positive descriptive norm condition (a traffic violation is rare).
1.2. Accident base rate
Individuals tend to use summary statistics for risky events to estimate personal risk (Weinstein, 1987). Greening and Chandler (1997) noted that risk estimates are higher if the stated accident base rate is high. This conclusion might also be applicable to traffic behavior, which indicates that individuals would use accident information to estimate the probability of being personally involved in a traffic accident. In general, a subjective estimate of probability in potential hazards is negatively related to risk behavior (Cohn et al., 1995). In transportation psychology, it appears logical that a lower estimate of risk has been identified as the cause of greater involvement in traffic violations (Fernandes et al., 2010). However, recent studies questioned whether there is a causal relationship between risk perception and behavior (Ulleberg and Rundmo, 2003; Rundmo and Iversen, 2004; Machin and Sankey, 2008). In the present study, we induced the perceived likelihood of traffic accidents by manipulating the stated accident base rate. We predict the following in our second hypothesis:H2:When the accident base rate is high, drivers’ intentions to be involved in a traffic violation will be lower than when the accident base rate is low.
The perceived risk in situation might also influence the utility of the descriptive norm. For instance, in a meta-analysis (Rivis and Sheeran, 2003), the descriptive norm was observed to be more important in motivating decisions to engage in risky (e.g., lottery play) than non-risky behaviors (e.g., healthy eating). A recent empirical study (Forward, 2009) regarding driving violations confirms this conclusion and shows that the descriptive norm can substantially increase the explained variance in predicting violation intentions in high risk scenarios but not low risk. That is to say, when situation is risky or uncertainty, the social evidence that descriptive norms provide becomes more important (Cialdini and Trost, 1998). Combining studies on accident base rates and descriptive norms, we predict the following:H3:The stated accident base rate moderates the effectiveness of a descriptive norm; namely, when the accident base rate is high, the violation intention of drivers might be more influenced by descriptive norm drivers.