Using the theory of planned behaviour to investigate adolescents' road user behaviour

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PROBLEM UNDER STUDY: Children aged 11-16 are a particularly vulnerable group of road users. Ways of changing their behaviour, making it more safety orientated, need to be found to improve road safety. OBJECTIVES: To use the theory of planned behaviour (TPB; Ajzen, 1985) to investigate adolescent road users' attitudes and behaviour, and to inform the development of road safety interventions. The TPB provides a theoretical account of how a number of psychological variables combine to predict behaviour. It posits that the proximal determinants of behaviour are people's intentions, which are in turn determined by attitudes, perceived social pressure (subjective norm) and perceptions about the ease or difficulty of performing the behaviour (perceived control). Attitudes, subjective norm and perceived control are determined by specific beliefs (behavioural, normative and control beliefs, respectively). Knowledge about which beliefs underlie the TPB can be used to form the basis of road safety interventions designed to change attitudes (and subjective norm and perceived control), intentions and ultimately behaviour. METHOD: The TPB was applied to four behaviours: cycle helmet use, using crossings, crossing between parked cars and challenging traffic. 564 pupils from six secondary schools in England completed questionnaires designed to measure the TPB variables with respect to each target behaviour. The sample was approximately equally distributed across the 11-16 year age range. 63.6% of the sample was male. 45.9% of the sample were from schools in rural areas and 54.1% were sampled from schools in urban areas. RESULTS: Hierarchical multiple regression showed that for each target behaviour, attitude, subjective norm and perceived control accounted for substantial and statistically significant increments to explained variance in intentions, over and above demographic variables - age, sex and area. Attitude, subjective norm and perceived control were all positively and significantly related to intention and were far stronger predictors than were the demographic variables. TPB variables also accounted for large and statistically significant increases to explained variance in reported behaviour, over and above the demographic variables, with intention being positively associated with each target behaviour. The results also showed that the effects of the demographic variables on intentions and on behaviour were mediated by the TPB variables. Thus, variables were identified which have the ability to explain the demographic-behaviour relationships. These variables also had predictive validity and are potentially amenable to being changed via road safety countermeasures. In line with the theoretical predictions of the TPB, it was found across all four target behaviours that behavioural beliefs accounted for reasonably large proportions of the variance in attitudes, normative beliefs accounted for reasonably large proportions of the variance in subjective norm and control beliefs significantly predicted perceived control. Specific belief predictors of adolescents' attitudes (and subjective norm and perceived control) towards each behaviour were also identified to provide knowledge about what beliefs to target in road safety interventions (e.g. publicity/education). CONCLUSION: The results provided considerable support for the TPB's application to adolescents' road user behaviour and indicated that by changing underlying beliefs, it might be possible to bring about corresponding changes in attitudes (and subjective norms and perceived control), intentions and behaviour. The study identified those specific beliefs which might be the most effective to target in interventions. Persuasive messages or other interventions designed to alter these beliefs could be easily conceived. Full details about the beliefs held by adolescent road users that were identified as being important targets for road safety countermeasures will be provided in the presentation.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2004
Event7th World Conference on Injury Prevention and Safety Promotion - Vienna, Austria
Duration: 6 Jun 20049 Jun 2004


Conference7th World Conference on Injury Prevention and Safety Promotion
CityVienna, Austria


  • road safety
  • injury prevention
  • road behaviour
  • young people


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