BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Arabic Spanish Russian Chinese Welsh

 You are in: UK
Front Page 
Northern Ireland 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

Tuesday, 4 December, 2001, 12:46 GMT
25 years of Think Before You Drink Before You Drive
Little girl from 1990
Pulling no punches - the poster from 1990
It's the 25th anniversary of the first drink-driving campaign. Styles may have changed in that time, as have the number of deaths. But some things stay the same.

The annual television and poster campaigns warning of the dangers of drink-driving have become as fixed a part of the modern Christmas as Slade and Wizzard.

Driving licence
Personal effect from 1986
And while they might not be as memorable, it seems as many as 20,000 of us can be extremely thankful for them. That is the number of fatalities it has been estimated have been avoided over the years thanks, perhaps, in large part to the campaigns.

From as many as 1,640 deaths in 1979, the total last year was 520.

Launch new window : POP UP SLIDESHOW
Click above to launch a picture slideshow of previous campaigns

In trying to bring that total down over 25 years, the Department of Transport has deployed a variety of tactics. In the early days, drink-driving was not seen as quite the anti-social activity it is today.

The early campaigns used - by today's standards - soft sell to address this; 1976's advert showed, to a soundtrack of Roll Out the Barrel, a woman being carried into an ambulance on a stretcher.
out of body experience
Gory drama: the poster with 1992's campaign

Perhaps it says something about the times, but the trend in the early 80s was quite clearly to appeal to self-interest.

Don't drink and drive because here's how it will affect you, the adverts said. You will lose your driving licence, you will have to beg your relatives for a lift, you will have to wait two hours for a minicab.

Personal interest

It even went for the holy grail of the 80s - the pocket. Your car insurance would double with a drink-driving conviction, it said, including the memorable line from a drink-driver seeking a new policy: "But that's more than I paid for the motor!"

How hard can it be to say no to a drink? 1995's poster
But by the 90s, the hard sell had arrived. In competing for people's attention with docusoaps, gory hospital dramas like ER, and a media doing its best at every turn to shock, the campaigns pulled no punches.

So a curly-haired little girl, who looked something like the child led through the bustle of New York in the classic VW ad, overhears her mother ask her father: "How am I supposed to explain you killed a little boy?"

Reality TV

In another, shown in 1992, the camera simply looked down on a road accident victim almost as if in an out-of-body experience while paramedics tried unsuccessfully to revive her.

Don't take your car for a drink

1976 slogan
And then there was David, being fed liquidised food spoonful by spoonful by his mother, while the soundtrack is of his friends encouraging him to have another pint. "Come on Dave, just one more," both his friends and his mother say.

By 1998, the campaign fully embraced reality TV, showing pictures purporting to be from an accident which happened "today".

12 month hangover
Personal appeal: This year's poster
"We'll show you details of another accident tomorrow. Make sure it's not you," it says.

This year's television adverts, revealed today by Transport Minister David Jamieson, maintain the reality TV theme, showing the aftermath of actual accidents.

But notably the poster for this year seems to hint at a return to earlier values. Perhaps it's that audiences can only be shocked so much before dramatic impact is lost. Or perhaps it is self consciously a different tack, maybe a recognition that last year's fatalities were actually an increase of 60 on 1999.

The poster shows no blood or gore, but instead the line revives the theme of the effect on the driver, not the victim: "The drive home cost him his licence and his job."

Drink drive campaigns
Watch the TV adverts from the past 25 years
See also:

Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more UK stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more UK stories