Messages Matter: Study Claims Anti-Drunk Driving PSAs Save Lives

tv with anti-drunk driving PSAsIf television has told you once, it’s told you ten thousand times: don’t drink and drive. Most of us grew up with televised reminders of the dangers of drunk driving. Depending on how old we are, we might have been exposed to one or another campaign from the Ad Council, which has been dispensing advice about sober driving since before the days of the cathode ray tube.

Yet according to a recent study at Cornell University, it’s not enough. Or more specifically, more anti-drunk-driving public service announcements (PSAs) would reduce drunk driving more – to the tune of 35 live saved in a city of 1 million.

The Cornell study looked at the number and timing of alcohol-control PSAs along with the corresponding rates of alcohol-related road fatalities, and came to this conclusion: “… higher volumes of anti-drunk driving PSAs airing in the preceding 2 to 3 months are associated, albeit modest in magnitude, with reduced rates of drunk-driving fatal accidents.”

The “modest” part comes, in part, from the fact that the messages hit hardest in prime time, which is expensive. Donated air time in those hours is rare.

So messages make a difference. As the authors put it, “PSAs could play an important contributing role in reducing drunk-driving fatal accidents.” What’s needed is more well-funded anti-drunk driving campaigns.

If TV ads can get the message across, then perhaps personal messages can too. Parents in particular can make sure that their teens understand the dangers of drunk driving. And if the study tells us anything, it’s that one message is not enough: it needs to be repeated often.