Drunk Driving Prevention (1983-Present)

In 1983 the Ad Council and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (under the U.S. Department of Transportation – U.S. DOT) partnered to launch the Drunk Driving Prevention campaign. Although society’s permissive attitude toward drinking and driving had recently begun to shift, many Americans were still unaware of the magnitude of the problem. At the time drunk drivers were responsible for 50% of automobile fatalities and experts predicted that one out of every two Americans would be involved in an alcohol-related traffic accident in his or her lifetime.

The campaign, with its tagline, “Drinking & Driving Can Kill A Friendship,” was originally designed to reach 16-24 year-olds, who accounted for 42% of all fatal alcohol-related car crashes, and inspire personal responsibility to prevent drinking and driving. The public service advertisement (PSA), which emphasized the grave consequences of drinking and driving with a depiction of two glasses crashing into each other, won the 1984 classic CLIO award for best overall ad campaign – commercial or public service. To date, it is one of only a handful of PSAs to have been so honored since 1947.

As the years passed, statistics showed that the issue of drunk driving was approaching the forefront of American consciousness. According to an April 1986 Roper poll, 62% of young Americans reported that they were now more conscious of the dangers of drunk driving than they had been previously and 34% refused to drink at all when they were planning to drive. Additionally, the U.S. DOT reported a 25% decrease in the number of drunk drivers killed in traffic accidents between 1980 and 1990.

In 1990, new PSAs encouraging friends to intervene in order to prevent a drunk person from getting behind the wheel introduced the tagline, “Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive Drunk.” This hard-hitting campaign was instrumental in achieving a 10% decrease in alcohol-related fatalities between 1990 and 1991 – the single largest one-year drop in alcohol-related fatalities ever recorded. The tagline went on to become the most recognized anti-drinking and driving slogan in America. Beginning in 1994, the PSAs poignantly illustrated the consequences of letting someone drink and drive by featuring the stories, photographs and home videos of real people who were killed by drunk drivers.

While drunk driving accidents still claimed more than 17,000 lives yearly as of 1994, that figure had decreased by 30% since the campaign began. In 1998, America experienced its lowest number of alcohol-related fatalities since the U.S. DOT began keeping records and at one point, more than 68% of Americans exposed to the advertising had taken action to prevent someone from driving drunk.

Michael Jackson was personally thanked by then-President Ronald Reagan at a White House ceremony in 1985 for donating his Grammy-award winning song “Beat It” for use in Drunk Driving Prevention television and radio PSAs. Other celebrities have also helped to bring attention to the problem of drunk driving. PSAs created in conjunction with Recording Artists, Actors, and Athletes Against Drunk Driving (RADD) and the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) featured such talent as Aerosmith, Barry Bonds, Brian McKnight, Dennis Franz, Faith Hill, Jamie Lee Curtis, Shaquille O’Neil, Stevie Wonder, and Tim McGraw.

Although alcohol-related traffic fatalities reached a low point in the late 1990s, the number of people killed by drunk drivers has been rising ever since. These statistics reminds us that our vigilance against drunk driving needs to be ongoing and that all of must take responsibility to use designated drivers and to keep those who have been
drinking from getting behind the wheel.

TV Commercials:

Crashing Glasses (1983)

Innocent People (1994)

John Elliot

Wiggins Kids

Ad Council Campaigns That Have Made a Difference

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