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Study of the Psychological Profile of a Sample of Italian Drivers

A.Conti, F. De Ferrari, C.A. Romano

Department of Forensic Medicine, University of Brescia, Spedali Civili Brescia, Italy


Taking the results of a survey of a sample of Italian drivers and bearing in mind the subjective perception of the effects of alcohol and drugs on vehicle drivers, the authors have attempted to trace the relative psychological and behavioural profile which emerges.

The sample involved 524 drivers from one area, Brescia/Bergamo.


Who consumes large quantities of alcohol tends to notably underestimate the quantity ingested. On the other hand it has been emphasised that even modest quantities of alcohol can significantly alter visual perception and decisional power perception(Mongrain and Standing).

Such problems as these, resulting from the underestimation of the difficulties of self-management, are most obviously revealed, and have the most alarming consequences, in the case of drivers of motor vehicles where there exists an undoubted potential for self injury and injury to others.

The methodology of research into this particular aspect of the problem usually envisages the investigation of the presence of an existing correlation between the consumption of alcohol and road traffic accidents.

This time we have centred our attention on the psychological profile of the motorist / consumer of alcoholic drink and on his/her behavioural patterns, following on the work of other Italian authors. In particular, according to Constantinides et al. (1991), the accident "type" involving a 21 to 30 year old driver of a motor vehicle, with an alcohol in blood level of between 2.1 and 3.0 g o/oo, which occurs between midnight and 06 00 hrs on Sunday mornings, in winter, in adverse weather conditions, with ulterior risk factors contributed by the vehicle speed and road conditions.

Ferrara (1992) individualises any risk factors common to the drivers, independent of any psychological, physiological or geographical variables that may differentiate them : Indulgence towards themselves when driving despite having consumed alcohol ; high alcohol consumption at one drinking session ; previous history of driving in a state of drunkenness ; age under 40 years ; high socio-economic status.

In the light of these previous studies, we considered it pertinent to collect some relevant data from a sample of the population in northern Italy, where there is generally a theme of alcohol related problems.

This gave rise to research in two distinct areas relative to the problems mainly highlighted in the examined literature.

The first research concerns the psychological position of the average motorist, chosen at random on a random weekday; particularly to his/her perception of the effects of the consumption of alcohol.

The second research meanwhile, examines a sample of an extremely precise population; persons attending dancing establishments in the Brescia region, interviewed inside the dance halls, discos etc. during Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings.


Both investigations were carried out by utilising a questionnaire and obtaining sealed replies.

With the first survey, (A), The motorists drove into a control centre administered by the Italian Automobile Club (ACI) where they completed the questionnaires given to them and deposited them into a sealed box hidden from view. Although this offered ample guarantees of anonymity, it produced, as one would expect, numerous invalidated forms.

With the second survey, (B), the researchers went inside the dance establishments and requested who amongst the people present would agree to answer some questions; interviews then proceeded with those who consented. In this way the level of spontaneity was reduced, but the researchers could immediately appreciate the level of sincerity (at least tendential) expressed.

Research A (motorists), involved 524 interviewees, divided into 302 in the region of Brescia and 222 in the region of Bergamo. 451 were males and 73 females ; Table 1 summarises the replies along with details of education and age group.

Table 1
Summary of Replies

  Elementary & secondary education Higher education Degree Total 18-25 years 26-45 years 45-65 years over 65 years
Have you ever drank alcohol before driving?
Yes 122 93 36 251 36 134 54 27
No 133 129 11 273 28 146 82 17
Total 255 222 47 524 64 280 136 44
If you need to drive after a meal what is effect on drinking?
None or limited 211 202 37 448 58 242 114 34
Drink but not drive 22 12 4 40 5 21 9 5
Trust self to drink 22 8 6 36 1 17 13 5
Total 255 222 47 524 64 280 136 44
Do you think a limit exists for safe drinking and driving?
Yes 72 83 29 184 25 107 33 19
No 183 139 18 340 39 173 103 25
Total 255 222 47 524 64 280 136 44

Among the 251 who admitted to having driven at sometime while having consumed alcoholic drink, 107 declared that they had noticed a difference in their ability to drive while 144 decidedly denied this. 139 further delayed that the difference could constitute a danger while the other 112 did not think so.

The 524 were asked what their attitude was towards driving after having had a meal ; 448 replied that they abstain or at least limit their drinking ; 40 stated that they drink freely, but do not drive while 36 said they drink normally as they are well able to tolerate alcohol. To the question asking if there exists a quantity of alcoholic drink which one can consume and then drive without any risk, there were 184 yes and 340 no.

The B survey (dance establishments), brought forth 328 valid replies, 173 male and 155 female, 35 of an age equal or less than 18 years, 217 between 19 and 30 years and 76 over 30 years old. Of the 328 some 102 were from other provinces.

The educational level was subdivided as follows : Elementary school 6, secondary school 149, trade training 39, high school 119 and university degree 11 (4 no reply).

307 of the 328 had arrived by car, 185 as drivers and 143 as passengers, 9 on motorcycles and the rest by other means.

To the question, "Have you drunk alcoholic drink this evening?" the replies were :

Yes, before coming here - 66 ; yes, here - 69 ; no alcohol drunk - 180 ; no reply - 13.

Then was asked, "Does knowing you must drive influence your consumption of alcohol?" 226 replied yes, 78 replied no and 24 did not reply.

To the question, "When you go out for evening entertainment do you usually consume alcoholic drinks?" the replies received are collated by sex, age and education in Tables 2, 3 and 4.

Table 2

  Male Female Total
Yes 93 34 127
No 80 121 201
Total 173 155 328

Table 3

  Up to 18 19-30 Over 30 N.K. Total
Yes 7 96 22 2 127
No 28 119 54 - 201
Total 35 215 76 2 328

Table 4

  Elementary Secondary Trades High Degree N.K. Total
Yes 1 62 15 41 5 3 127
No 5 87 24 78 6 1 201
Total 6 149 39 119 11 4 328

We also looked at any possible differences in responses between those having arrived as drivers and those as passengers, to the questions, "Does knowing you have to drive influence your consumption of alcohol?", "Do you drink in such a way as not to lose your self-control?" and "Where have you been drinking?". These results are shown in Tables 5, 6 and 7.

Table 5
"Does knowing you have to drive influence your consumption of alcohol?"

  Need to drive influences drinking No influence N.K. Total
Drivers 131 44 20 185
Passengers 101 24 8 143
Total 232 68 28 328

Table 6
"Do you drink in such a way as not to lose your self-control?"

  Drink but not to lose self-control No N.K. Total
Drivers 132 38 15 185
Passengers 94 40 9 143
Total 226 78 24 328

Table 7
"Where have you been drinking?"

  Drank before Drank here Not drank N.K. Total
Drivers 41 46 93 5 185
Passengers 25 23 87 8 143
Total 66 69 180 13 328


Both the research studies have furnished interesting results. Among the motorists (A) the most worrisome are that 47.9% of those interviewed admit to having driven after consuming alcohol, 24.4% do not notice any effect on their ability to drive and 21.3% do not consider that it constitutes a danger.

A question mark must remain over those who report ' limiting there drinking when going to drive ' due to the subjective nature of the valuation of the effects of consuming alcohol, with a tendency to underestimate, so rendering this attitude extremely risky,

A comparison of the replies with the numerous variables show no remarkable differences between the various subject classes and this is consistent with the knowledge of the social classlessness of the problem. Alcohol consumption amongst motorists can not be surprising as it has been and it continues to be a social custom and a formality of social interrelationships (Alvarez et al., 1992). Of greater concern is the consideration of the association between driving and the consuming of alcohol. From the research at (B) it emerges that a good 38.6% of the customers interviewed admit to habitually drinking alcohol when going out at night ; of these a little less than half had been drinking prior to arriving at place for dancing.

This data shows the existence of a habit of consuming toxic-voluptuary substances independent of the establishment frequented and this is in keeping with the adoption of the typical behavioural models of the age groups surveyed (Schwarzemberger et al., 1988 ; Moreth et al., 1989).

70% of those interviewed affirm that the knowledge that they must drive influences what they drink while 68% affirm anyway, that if they consume alcohol they do not drink beyond the point of losing self-control.

In addition to the obvious alarm at the remaining percentage of interviewees that, in practice, do not modify their consumption of alcohol with the knowledge of having to drive, is the number of subjects who affirm relying on "presumed self-control". This is a real source of concern for the already quoted effects of alteration to cognition and of the derived self-perception from the underestimation of the consumption of alcohol.

In conclusion, from the research carried out, there emerges a profile of a motorist (an inhabitant of the northern regions of Italy concerned in this survey) rather heedless of the problems involved with the consumption of alcohol prior to driving and to not modifying their own attitude because of a presumed (and, in reality, existing) capacity to self-manage the negative potentiality of the effects of the consumption of alcohol on the driving of motor vehicles.


Alvarez F.J., Prada R., Del Rio M.C. (1992): Drugs and alcohol consumption amongst Spanish drivers, Forensic Science International, 53, 221.

Costantinides F., Russo V., Malusa' N. (1991): La alcoolemia negli incidenti stradali mortali avvenuti nella provincia di Trieste nel periodo 1982-1989, DIF. SOC., LXXX, 3, 27

Ferrara S.D., Giorgetti R., (a cura di) (1992): Methodology in man/machine interaction and epidemiology on drugs and trafic safety. Addiction Research Foundation of Italy, Padova, pag.6.

Mongrain S., Standing L. (1989): Impairment of cognition, Risk-Taking and Self-Perception by alcohol, Percept Motor Skills, 69, 199.

Moretti V., Matieucci M., RE L., Rossini L. (1989): Alcool, farmaci e droghe tra i giovani, Boll. Farmac. e Alcool, XII, 4-5

Schwarzemberger T.L., Cavalli P., Acconcia P., Canibus R., Silvio V. (1988): Giovani ed alcool, indagine conoscitiva ed epidemiologica su un campione di adolescenti laziali, DIF. SOC. LXXVII,3,68