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Battling Drunk Driving Over the Holidays

By:  Riya Bhattacharjee Dec 10, 2012
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Sobriety checkpoint
Mark Wilson, Getty Images

Washington Metropolitan Police conduct a sobriety check point associated with a news conference on drunk driving.

It’s that time of year: Time to deck the halls, socialize, eat, drink and be merry, which also means figuring out how to get home safely. Since, for many, holiday fun includes adult beverages, like eggnog, cocktails and hot toddies for many, designated drivers are in high demand.

All over the world, law enforcement agencies, community groups, volunteers and corporations are gearing up to make the holidays safer. In the U.S., where a person is injured in a drunk driving crash almost every 90 seconds, a new National Highway Traffic Safety Administration public service announcement aimed at young men, who have the highest rate of drunk driving, uses ”invisible cops” to drive home the very important message: The police will see you before you see them.

Anti-Drunk-Driving Initiatives Around the Globe

In the United States, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) has played a crucial role in aiding the fight against drunk driving. Since the organization was founded in 1980, the number of drunk driving deaths in the U.S. has been cut in half. This year MADD is celebrating the twenty-sixth anniversary of its annual Tie One On for Safety campaign, which encourages people to tie a red ribbon on their cars or attach a red ribbon magnet or window decal to their vehicle as a reminder to drive sober during the holidays.

In Toronto, Canada, the number of drunk driving offenses during the holiday season more than doubled between 2010 and 2011. In fact, Toronto police impounded more than 200 vehicles during last year’s 37-day Reduce Impaired Driving Everywhere (RIDE) holiday campaign. This year Toronto police are collaborating with MADD and members of Parliament during this year’s RIDE campaign, which will feature a mock collision to stress the dangers of impaired driving.

France, which has strict drunk driving laws, recently implemented mandatory disposable breathalyzers for every driver in the country, including visitors, hoping that the law would make people think twice before drinking and driving.

Ireland Declares War on Drunk Driving

Another country declaring war against drunk driving is Ireland. And this is where Coca-Cola is lending a holiday hand.

As part of its corporate social initiative, the world’s largest beverage giant launched this year's annual Designated Driver campaign in Ireland on Nov. 26 to combat drunk driving (or “drink driving” as it is known there) in partnership with An Garda Siochana (Ireland’s national police), Drinkaware.ie (a nonprofit organization with the aim of preventing underage drinking and drinking and driving) and the Road Safety Authority. As part of the initiative, Coca-Cola is giving away nonalcoholic beverages, including Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite, Sprite Zero, Fanta Orange, Fanta Lemon, Fruice Juices and Cordials, Deep RiverRock Still and Sparkling, and Appletiser, to designated drivers in a variety of  locations through Dec. 31. 

Designated Driver Program in Ireland
Maxwell Photography

Drinkaware.ie is a nonprofit organization with the aim of preventing underage drinking and drinking and driving.

Coca-Cola: Helping to Make Ireland’s Roads Safe

“We want to reduce the risk of drink driving and promote safety during the festive season, when pubs are busier than ever with people celebrating Christmas with a night out on the town,” says Mo Durkan, a spokesperson for Coca-Cola in Ireland. The company decided to get involved because “they saw this as an opportunity to address the rising incidents of drinking in Ireland. It’s one more tool to make the country safer during the holidays.”

Ireland, a country that has zero tolerance for drunk driving, used to have a far worse drunk driving problem. However, the enforcement of stricter drunk driving laws, combined with frequent breath tests, seem to be having an effect. The number of drunk driving cases has dropped from more than 15,116, in 2009, to 8,032 between January and October of this year.  

In addition to stricter laws in Ireland, efforts such as Coca-Cola’s Designated Driving campaign — which started in 2004 — have helped spread the word about the dangers of getting behind the wheel after drinking.

“We have supported this campaign since it started, and we believe it is an important initiative in helping to encourage all road users to take responsibility and always put safety first,” says Assistant Commissioner Gerard Phillips, head of Ireland's Garda National Traffic Bureau. “Our priority is keeping the roads as safe as possible, and by designating a driver, you are doing your bit to making sure everyone gets home safely on their night out.”

Getting the Message to Young Male Drivers

Coke's campaign is open to everyone, but the target audience is young Irish males, ages 18 to 24 — the population most likely to drink and drive, according to Durkan.

“We want to make sure that they won’t be taking any more risks,” Durkan says.

Coca-Cola’s award-winning campaign is supported by the Licensed Vintners Association, the Vintners Federation of Ireland, the Restaurants Association of Ireland, the Irish Hotels Federation and the Irish Nightclub Industry Association. The program extends to Northern Ireland, where it is supported by the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Department of the Environment.

Fionnuala Sheehan, chief executive of drinkaware.ie, encouraged revelers to download the site’s Christmas Survival Guide for tips on enjoying the holiday party season safely. From hangover advice to what to do “on the morning after the night before,” this site is packed with all kinds of fun stuff, including free concerts, movies and iPad giveaways from Coke. One piece of advice in the guide: “Even if you feel OK to drive the following day, you may still be over the legal limit and could get a €5,000 fine or a 6-month sentence — or you could be liable to both. Your body gets rid of roughly one standard drink — that’s half a pint or a glass of wine or a pub measure of spirits — per hour." 

This year the campaign website, which can also be found through cokezone.ie, allows designated drivers to download the free nonalcoholic drink vouchers before visiting the venues. They can also download an app on their mobile phones to locate the nearest participating outlets.

The company also launched its fifth annual Designated Driver campaign in Great Britain on December 9, as part of Coca-Cola Great Britain's pledge to promote the positive role that soft drinks can play as credible alternatives to alcohol. About 8,000 pubs have signed up to participate in the three-week campaign, which is part of an ongoing partnership with the Department of Transport's Driver Friendly campaign, part of the THINK! Road Safety initiative.

Sounds of the Season