Chris Moerdyk

Are drivers really dumping drunk driving?

2012-03-05 07:27

Chris Moerdyk

Is that a faint glimmer of light I see at the end of South Africa's tunnel of road death?

Research conducted by Synovate last year has shown an increase in the number of South Africans who have put their hands on their hearts and swore blind they would not drive if they felt they had too much to drink.

OK, so the shift is a minuscule four per cent but heck, at least its heading in the right direction. Unlike years and even decades ago when the situation was just going from bad to worse to indescribably shocking.

But, research aside, I get the feeling that more and more drivers are recognising the fact that it really is quite stupid to drink and drive.

Not all that long ago, I used to hear people boasting about how to avoid road blocks after a night out on the tiles.

Certainly in the circles within which I move, no-one brags about that anymore because they know someone is going to jump down their throats and bring up subjects like children and nuns being killed by drunk drivers.

A change in attitude

Somehow, the social unacceptability of drinking and driving has started to manifest itself. Try it whenever you are next in a gathering of family or friends. Try boasting about how clever you are at drinking as though there was no tomorrow and still being able to avoid the roadblocks.

Interestingly enough, I started noticing a change in attitude round about the time a local liquor company called Brandhouse started running a graphic ad campaign called "Papa wag vir jou" with scenes inside jails with all sorts of really dodgy looking inmates just waiting for you to be nabbed at a roadblock and chucked in chooky with them for the night.

Now, I see there's a new campaign based on the theme "Who's driving you home tonight" and also showing scenes such as two cops next to a police van holding the door open for you.

Now, what appeals to me about this advertising is that it is what I call "positive shock" as against "negative shock".

Negative shock is showing pictures of dead bodies lying all over the road at an accident scene, or maybe a kid in a hospital ICU after being hit by a drunk driver.

Seeing strangers

Oh yes I know countries like New Zealand say that works for them but South Africa is different. New Zealand has excellent policing and dead bodies lying around is not a common sight. In South Africa the sight of dead bodies lying around pretty commonplace. And there isn't much policing.

The problem with these ads is that you and I look at them and all we see are strangers. They're not us. It doesn’t look like our neighbourhood and that wrecked car isn't ours.

Which just makes us think that all these terrible things happen to someone else.

But, positive shock ads are those in which we are very easily able to put ourselves in a specific. Like in jail or in a police van.

Are these ads working? Well, it’s hard to say. But, I was very impressed to see that when I went onto YouTube to have another look at those "Papa Wag vir Jou" commercials again I noticed that 136 000 people had also had a look.  Which suggests to me that this campaign certainly had become quite a talking point around dinner tables for that many people to go and find out what everyone was talking about.

It’s not a huge number of people but it’s a good indicator of interest. Having said that I must say that it has worked for me. I am now in my third month of not drinking and driving at all. And it’s not as hard as it sounds. What convinced me? Certain the Brandhouse campaign but also the Independent Newspapers "name and shame" campaign last year.

Face the problem together

Something else that I find encouraging is that in my ongoing interest in governments plan to ban alcohol advertising, I have noticed a far greater determination by the major players in the liquor industry to contribute a lot more to combating alcohol abuse.

I also have the feeling that government is a lot more willing now, to actually engage with the liquor industry and not just treat them as a mortal enemy.

I am a fan of Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi in spite of differing with him on the whole advertising issue. He is the first health minister we have had who seems to be getting things done.

I believe implicitly, that the only way that the scourge of alcohol abuse is going to be properly addressed is if Government, the liquor industry and most importantly, the media, stop fighting each other but rather face the problem together.

A year ago I would have laughed at this suggestion, but my latest studies on the subject show that this is now a very real possibility. And about time too.

So tell me. Do you have the balls to admit in public that you don’t drink and drive anymore?   

- Follow Chris on Twitter.

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