Evaluating attitudes, beliefs and behaviours related to traffic safety enforcement among police leaders in Ontario

Author(s): Rillagodage
Student Poster Competition: 1st Place

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Traffic laws attempt to deter risky driving behaviours such as speeding and impaired driving. Effective enforcement of traffic laws has been shown to substantially mitigate this type of risky driving. In Canada, traffic safety enforcement (TSE i.e., policing of traffic laws) is predominantly conducted by frontline police officers. These officers’ TSE behaviour is dependent on (i) their attitudes and beliefs about TSE, and (ii) barriers to TSE. In line with these identified factors, influence and follow-through on TSE activities by police leaders (PLs) also reportedly affect frontline officers’ willingness to proactively engage in TSE. Thus, understanding PLs’ attitudes toward TSE and their perceptions of barriers to TSE are valuable to the improvement of TSE initiatives. Yet, literature evaluating police leaders’ TSE attitudes and perceptions is limited, particularly in the Canadian context.


The study goal was to expand our understanding of how PLs in Ontario may view the value of TSE to road safety, and what barriers to TSE these leaders may perceive.


With the assistance of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police, a sample of 20 PLs (i.e., police chiefs, and/or sergeants) were selected from the study population (i.e., PLs working in the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) and seventeen municipal police services across Ontario) using a stratified sampling method where each strata corresponds to a specific regional police service. One-on-one semi-structured interviews with the PLs were conducted with questions asking about their perceptions and beliefs about TSE, and barriers to TSE. Study data were analyzed using summative content analysis, whereby responses for each question were summarized, classified, graphically presented, and interpreted.


All police leaders considered TSE to be a top priority in their regions. Yet, some leaders questioned the value of TSE to the improvement of traffic safety in their jurisdictions. Most PLs felt supported in TSE by their officers and other stakeholders (e.g., Ministry of Transportation Ontario, the general public). The most commonly identified barriers for TSE was a lack of frontline officers, followed by a lack of time to proactively engage in TSE. Most leaders found their current internal collision reporting systems to be useful and satisfactory.


Through interviews with PLs working in the Ontario Provincial Police and seventeen of Ontario’s municipal police departments, this research identified questions among PLs about the efficacy of TSE to improve road safety, perceived support for TSE from officers and other stakeholders, but lack of time and resources for TSE activities. Policy suggestions to address these findings will be discussed. Building on the data collected, the next step for our project team is to evaluate attitudes, beliefs and behaviours related to TSE among frontline police officers in Ontario through an online survey. Future research will expand this research initiative to other regions of Canada.


By conducting one-on-one semi-structured interviews with PLs, this study helps road safety professionals to better understand the attitudes, beliefs and behaviours related to TSE among PLs in Ontario, and by extension, provides a foundation on which to initiate policy development to improve TSE activities across the province.