Most people think of themselves as moral, upstanding citizens, the same way most people think that they are above average in attractiveness, intelligence, driving skill and other categories. It's good for our mental health that we think of ourselves in a positive way.
The problem with drunk driving ads and DARE programs, etc. is that they present drunk driving as a good vs. evil narrative. But when most people think of themselves as good then they reject the ads as not addressed to them, addressed to other "evil" drunk drivers. The chain of logic becomes, "I'm a good person --> Good people don't endanger other people's lives, get arrested, or kill people in their cars --> This ad is not for me." No one drives drunk with the intention of
Furthermore, the ads are preach to us when we're sober. Just as no one plans on becoming a murderer, I'm not sure people plan on becoming drunk drivers. Dan Ariely has a chapter in his book, Predictably Irrational, about how people's responses to questions about their sexual preferences change when they are aroused vs. when they are in a neutral setting. They become so much more willing to engage in risky sexual activity that talking to an aroused person is like talking to a completely different person than the sober one. We can say the same thing about drunk people. We're preaching to the sober choir; everyone's against drunk driving when they're sober. But God help us when people get wasted.
I think ads need to stress that all of us are potential drunk drivers. We need to take steps to make sure that we make the right decision even when we're under pressure. Consider the following scenarios.
- You're driving on the Bay Bridge into San Francisco. The plan is to go bar hopping with a high school friend, and then sleep on the couch in his apartment. After four or five drinks, the conversation's flowing and you head to the bathroom, while waiting in line you start talking to an attractive girl who's waiting for the ladies room. She seems pretty interested, and mentions that she and a few friends are leaving for a club, would you like to join. So you head to the dance club and start dancing with this love interest. Your high school friend, bored, wanders off to try his luck elsewhere in the club. After about an hour of dancing and laughing you ask if she wants to take the party elsewhere. She resists at the last minute - mentioning that she doesn't want to leave her friends, she just met you, etc. Bummed, you go to find your friend. But he's nowhere in sight, and you look down and see that your phone's dead. The phone had his address and number saved in it. So now you are alone in the city at 2AM with nowhere to sleep and no way to get in touch with your friend.
- You're celebrating a friend's birthday on a Wednesday night. Everyone gets completely plastered, stays up till 4AM and spends the night at his house. You wake up at 8 AM to go to work, and on the way to the bathroom realize that you're still wasted. But you just got hired for this job two months ago.
- You drove to a bar in the suburbs. You start talking to an attractive girl sitting at the bar, and things are going well. She's playing with her hair, you're both smiling and laughing, you put your hand on her knee, and as the drinks pile up you are falling deeper and deeper in drunk love. You haven't had sex in six months, so you're pretty excited and anxious to seal the deal. Now it's time to go; you had your last drink an hour ago. If the two of you took a cab you'd have to wait twenty minutes, pay a large fare and get someone to drive you back to the bar in the morning.
- It's Saturday night and you're at a house party, shotgunning beers, playing pong, taking shots, singing Journey and having a good time. Plenty of your friends are there, but also a lot of people that you don't know. You're in the kitchen talking to friends when you hear your ex girlfriend make a loud entrance, saying hi to friends. "Fuck," you say - now it will be harder to have a good time. At least by this point in the night you have a good buzz going. The night progresses and you see your ex deep in conversation with a guy of marginal quality. You're angry that she's displaying such bad taste. So you go outside to hang out in the hot tub, down in the basement to smoke, or upstairs to listen to Jimi Hendrix, for about an hour. You stumble back to the main room, where the lights are out and nearly everyone's passed out, and ask where your ex went - the answer is in a bedroom, with that guy. You're furious, and more angry because there's nothing you can do. All of the couches and beds are filled with sleeping bodies, you have your keys and your house is the next exit down on the freeway.
I am not trying to justify drunk driving. I just think that the ads that are supposed to change our habits don't do a very good job, because they don't take into account the banal circumstances that lead people to drink and drive.
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