Anti-Drunk Driving Ad Campaign Impact

Picture this: you’re out at a dinner party with friends. You’re having a few drinks, a few laughs, and lots of tasty finger foods. This person got engaged, that person is having a baby, yet another person just got back from a trip abroad and won’t let you leave until you’ve seen every photo they took on their phone (even the ones from inside their pocket). By the time you’re heading out to your car, keys in hand, your head is swimming with red wine. You immediately know you shouldn’t drive home and take out your phone to call an Uber, letting your friend know that you’ll pick your car up from their place tomorrow.

It wasn’t always so easy to make the decision not to drink and drive. Not only because rideshare apps have made the choice much more convenient, but also because drunk driving awareness is much more widespread than it once was. Thirty years ago, this person may not have thought twice about getting in the car. But at this point, the dangers of drinking and driving are essentially common knowledge. And that is largely due to a series of ad campaigns from the ’80s and ’90s.

Drinking & Driving

In the early 1980s, drunk driving was reaching an all-time high. According to the ANA Educational Foundation, roughly 50% of all automobile fatalities in the U.S. were attributed to drunk driving at the time. To combat that number, the Ad Council and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (under the U.S. Department of Transportation – U.S. Dot) partnered in 1983 to launch an ad campaign with the goal of drunk driving prevention.


When deciding how to build their campaign, the partner organizations turned toward the stats. At the time, the majority of drunk driving accidents were caused by teenagers (or 16-24 year olds) who accounted for 42% of all fatal alcohol-related crashes.

The first campaign they ran had the tagline “Drinking and Driving Can Kill a Friendship”, hoping to appeal to their target age group. This public service advertisement (PSA) used an image of two drinking glasses crashing into each other and shattering to touch on the grave consequences of drinking alcohol and driving. This ad received the 1984 classic CLIO award for best overall ad campaign (commercial or public service), making it one of the few PSA’s to be honored with the award.


Drunk driving awareness began to increase as the ad campaigns began, the U.S. DOT reported a 25% decrease in the number of drunk driving accidents between 1980 and 1990. Additionally, according to a 1986 Roper poll, 62% reported that they were now more conscious of the dangers of drunk driving than they had been previously.

That being said, the numbers were still high and the partner organizations knew they needed to capitalize on the raised public awareness. So they released a new ad campaign that you may still recognize today with the slogan “Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive Drunk”. Below the slogan, the print ad states “If your friend has had too much to drink, he doesn’t have to drive. Here are three ways to keep your friend alive…” The goal of this hard-hitting campaign was to encourage friends to hold each other accountable by highlighting the severe mortality risks of drunk driving.

This campaign saw a huge spread in awareness, resulting in a 10% drop in alcohol-related fatalities between 1990 and 1991. This is the single largest one-year drop in alcohol-related fatalities ever recorded. The tagline still remains the most famous anti-drinking and driving slogan in history, so influential that the slogan can even be easily recognized today. You can even find different and comical iterations of the slogan in memes and even on merchandise, examples including ‘friends don’t let friends use comic sans’, ‘friends don’t let friends write bad poetry’, etc.