1964: Britain’s First Anti Drunk Driving PSA

L.P. Hartley wrote,  “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” And sometimes we do look at life a half-century ago and wonder if those people are related to us.

Attitudes toward drunk driving are a case in point. Since just about the invention of the internal combustion engine, impaired driving has been met with a surprising degree of tolerance. Up until the 1960s drunk driving was a regrettable but ineradicable subset of drinking, which itself was much more popular than it is now. In the 1960s Britain decided to do something about drunk driving, if not its persistent drinking culture, and launched the well-known Think! campaign. The first television ad contained a slice-of-life scene from an office holiday party.

How is this ad different from modern anti-drunk-driving campaigns? Let us count the ways. There’s the assumption that the driver will be male (a valid one for the time). More interesting is the number of drinks a party guest is expected to drink: four, six, and eight whiskies are proposed for discussion. No wine spritzers here.

Also, the numbers are off. “Four single whiskies and the risk is twice as great.” Nope. That amount of booze would bring most people’s blood alcohol level to .08, at which point your odds of a collision have tripled.

It might also seem amazing that authorities would have to make a PSA telling people that it’s not a good idea to drive after eight drinks. But such was the culture back then, not just in Britain but all over the world. It took a lot of work – a lot of experimentation with ways of reaching people through reason, emotion, and even humor – to change people’s attitudes to the point that drunk driving is no longer fashionable.

We’re glad it worked, even though it hasn’t yet worked 100 percent. If the past is another country, it’s one we’d be better off not driving in.