Scotland tackles drug-drive menace

Drugs are found in 18 per cent of car-crash fatalities. Based on these statistics, Scottish Road Safety has hired Faulds to create a series of anti-drug-driving ads aimed at curbing this trend.

An old US road safety warning reads “speed kills”. Translate speed as slang for amphetamines, add a picture of a mangled car and you have a new road safety message targeting drug-drivers.

However, Faulds will not be adopting this shock approach for the first anti-drug-driving campaign in the UK. Faulds has been briefed by Scottish Road Safety (SRS) – a committee funded by the Scottish Executive – to deliver a TV campaign and it will be taking an educational, informative approach.

The initiative has been launched because, for the first time, there exists a fairly reliable roadside test that police can use to judge whether someone’s driving has been impaired because of drugs. If the result gives an officer reasonable grounds for suspicion that a driver has been driving under the influence of drugs, the policeman can take him to the nearest police station for a blood test. The impairment test examines reflexes and reactions and was imported from the US. After trials last year it has been introduced to forces across the UK, although officers have to be trained to use the test.

There have also been trials of roadside chemical or technological tests, such as sweat-based moisture wipes or saliva swabs, but so far these have proved unreliable and would require parliamentary legislation before they can be introduced.

The first real research into the scale of drug-driving was undertaken last May. Commissioned by SRS, the research – based on a poll of 1,000 17- to 39-year-old drivers – revealed that nine per cent admitted to ever having driven under the influence of drugs; and five per cent of the drivers polled had done so in the previous 12 months. Drivers within the 22to 24-year-old age group were the biggest offenders.

Just over a year ago, the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions (DTLR) also carried out research using forensic tests on the bodies of drivers killed in road accidents in England and Wales. It found drugs present in 18 per cent of casualties – this is up five-fold on ten years ago. Although two-thirds of that number showed cannabis traces, a departmental spokesperson points out that cannabis can stay in the body for two to three days and therefore inhalation could have taken place considerably earlier than the accident. He also stresses that the presence of any drug does not necessarily mean that it was a contributory factor to the accident.

For comparison, 32 per cent of the examined bodies showed alcohol present, while 22 per cent of the bodies had alcohol levels over the legal limit.

The right tactic for anti-social driving awareness campaigns is a matter of debate, but Faulds will not be using imagery of violent car crashes in the advertising campaign. Instead it will focus on explaining the legal position and the practical consequences of being caught while driving under the influence of drugs.

Faulds has worked on several driving awareness campaigns and group account director Richard Marsham says that the Scottish approach has differed significantly from that in England and Wales.

For instance, there has been a speed awareness campaign for the past five years in Scotland, but it has never featured a car wreck. The recent Scottish Christmas anti-drink driving campaign was named “Wheel of misfortune” and it emphasised how convicted offenders can lose their licence, job, car and even “pulling power”.

Compare this with the startling “Julie” TV campaign, devised by Abbott Mead Vickers.BBDO (AMV) for seatbelt safety, that shows a young teenager in the back seat slam into the back of his mother’s head when the car crashes. According to a poll of 20,000 passengers (source DTLR), since the campaign was launched in July 1998 the wearing of seatbelts in the backs of cars by people aged over 14 has increased from 46 per cent to 60 per cent. AMV has handled COI Communications (COI) drink-driving campaigns since 1998 and its latest Christmas ads featured shots of the aftermath of terrible accidents, dubbed with a soundtrack of festive carols.

AMV planning director Vanella Jackson says it is still important to have a “moral condemnation” message. She says the challenge is to keep using shock tactics, but to find ways of introducing positive educational messages as well.

Faulds’ Marsham says: “Faulds doesn’t think that shock tactics change behaviour. Its campaigns are very focused on practical consequences, young men are not really bothered about moral obligations or a sense of social responsibility, but when they are told that they might lose their car or their job, then the ads are pressing the right buttons.”

Dr Jo Neale of the Glasgow Centre for Drug Misuse Research, who sits on the SRS, points out another problem – that many drugs users feel they can drive safely under the influence of drugs. This is particularly true of cannabis smokers, who often claim that the drug improves concentration and heightens perception. He says that habitual cannabis smokers indulge in the drug as part of their daily routine and are used to carrying out regular everyday activities under the influence of the drug.

Neale adds: “They also believe they can get away with it when stopped [by police] and that it appears socially acceptable.”

Faulds campaign will take a two-pronged approach. First it will educate people that it is against the law to drive while under the influence of drugs. This is deemed necessary because of confusion among younger people over the legal position of drug-driving, which has been compounded by the recent debate over relaxation of the cannabis laws. Second, it will heavily highlight the practical consequences of a conviction.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents head of road safety Kevin Clinton agrees that “maybe there is a need to raise awareness that certain drugs have an effect on driving”. He points out that there is a tendency for advertising to go in cycles, switching from the sharp shock approach to more subtle persuasive tactics and back again over the years. He adds: “At the moment we are probably in a period of hard-hitting commercials and they certainly work in terms of raising awareness.”

The US has also seen a rise in “drugged driving” among young people, according to John Moulden, president of Washington-based non-profit organisation the National Coalition Against Drunk Driving. The US has long had anti-drug-driving messages, and the Coalition holds a National Drunk and Drugged Driving Prevention Month every year.

It may be that future UK campaigns couple anti-drink and drug-driving messages. But while the DTLR is interested in the outcome of the Scottish campaign, it has so far only considered using PR to deliver educational messages about the dangers of drug-driving.

All are agreed that drugor drink-driving awareness campaigns, whatever form they take, will not work in isolation and are dependent upon an increase in enforcement activity from the police.

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