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The Struggle Against Alcoholemia in France: the Campaign of Summer 1994 "Do not let alcohol take the wheel"

Michel Ledru

Deputy Director responsible for Road Safety Communications, Ministry of Transport, La Grande Arche, 92055 Paris la defense Cedex 04, France


In France was put in force a new BAC limit in July 1994 (0.7 g/l of blood against 0.8 previously). Such a change has been the opportunity for a very large communication campaign (5 millions of US dollars) on television, radio and posting-up along roads, on theme: "Don't let alcohol take the wheel". That campaign was adapted to the different days of the week and different possible periods of alcohol consuming, through particular messages. On radio, 67 different messages were thus conceived. As for posting, four different bills were launched. It is the first example of a communication campaign with bearers so numerous and adapting themselves to all situations.

Assessment of the impacts of that campaign showed a significant decrease in the number of killed and injured due to drinking and driving, during the months which followed.

Together with that paper there will be projection of transparents, slides and TV/video films.


As of July 11, 1994, the maximum level of alcoholemia permitted when driving in France was lowered. A decree stipulates that between 0.7 g/l and 0.8 g/l (from 0.35 mg/l and 0.40 mg/l in air breathed out) is driving under the influence of alcohol, constituing an offence punishable by a fine and a short suspension of the driving licence. This minor offence leads to the withdrawal of four out of twelve points from the driving licence. More than 0.8 g/l of alcohol in the blood (or 0.40 mg/l in air breathed out) is an offence resulting in severer sanctions, including withdrawal of six points from the driving licence.

This first threshold of 0.7 g/l of alcohol in the blood should make drivers more aware of the need for vigilance. The progression of risk is quite spectacular. Drivers with more than 0.7 g/l of alcohol in their blood (2 or 3% on average on the road), are involved in 6% of reported offences (driving through stop-signs or red lights, etc.), 10% of material accidents alone, 20% of accidents causing bodily harm where an alcohol is performed. They are also involved in almost 40% of mortal accidents (i.e. the death of 3,000 people a year !).

Compared to a driver who has not drunk any alcohol, the risk of having a mortal accident with a level of 0.7 g/l in the blood is already multiplied by 5, with 0.8 g/l it is multiplied by 10 and at 1.2 g/l the figure is 35 !!!

THE COMMUNICATIONS CAMPAIGN OF SUMMER 1994 (radio and billboards) "Do not let alcohol take the wheel"

If in 95% of mortal accidents, there is at least one factor related to driver behaviour, it is particularly due to :

  • excessive or inappropriate speed (approximately 50%)
  • alcohol in driver's bloodstream (almost 40%).

A survey run in 1992 among French drivers a regards road safety showed that the consumption of too much alcohol is considered as being the major cause of road accidents. It was mentioned by 95% of people interviewed, excess speed coming second (65%).

To limit the number and gravity of road accidents, French drivers are in favour of three themes :

  • greater responsibility (by education starting in school, preventive campaigns, installing medical examinations or inspecting the state of vehicles) ;
  • dissuasion (more controls in general) ;
  • repression (more repression in general, stricter measures against alcohol abuse).

So, a strict limit of alcoholemia when driving is accepted and recognized by a large majority. However, this awareness does not necessarily mean that the driver really changes behaviour, occasional drinkers are involved in numerous accidents because of a tendency to assimilate alcohol when driving and chronic alcoholism. Which is why the communications campaign "Do not let alcohol take the wheel", was aimed at making people aware of the risks drivers take and cause others to take when under the influence of alcohol.

Tha campaign was structured along three lines :

A Radio Campaign

The intention here was to show that even a small quantity of alcohol increases the risks of having an accident.

One of the problems of alcohol when driving is the misunderstanding or under-estimation of the risks involved, even for the driver who is only slightly under the influence of alcohol.

The inhibition-removing effect of alcohol makes one feel sure of oneself, when in fact, one ought to be doubly prudent and under greater control.

70 radio messages were developed for each day of the week at different times of the day, to help drivers better appreciate the risk and its proximity in various aspects of daily life.

The alcohol campaign was broadcast in a spirit of observation, encouraging people to be responsible : each individual can act to avoid an accident and its tragic consequences.

Examples of Radio Messages (30 seconds on the air)

July 9 : the night-club

This evening, Saturday July 9, you are off to the night-club. You will have a few drinks without paying too much attention and drive back home. We know that tonight, between midnight and 5 in the morning, 7 people will die and 52 be seriously hurt. Due to alcohol. Because of all those who took the wheel after drinking.
You can change these statistics by not letting alcohol take the wheel.
Road Safety, live and let live.

July 11 : a drink at midday

You are invited to a drink today, Monday July 11. You will drink reasonably and drive back in your car. We know that between 11 and 1 o'clock, 1 person will die and 10 be seriously injured. Due to alcohol. Because of all those who thought they had drunk - reasonably.
You can change these statistics by not letting alcohol take the wheel.
Road Safety, live and let live.

July 18 : a dinner

This evening, Monday July 18, you are going out to dinner. You will probably drink with your meal. You will drive back home. We know that tonight, Monday July 18, between 9 and midnight, 2 people will die and 20 be seriously hurt. Due to alcohol. Because of all those who took the wheel after drinking.
You can change these statistics by not letting alcohol take the wheel.
Road Safety, live and let live.

The campaign took place in two phases :

  • a launch period from July 7 to 24, 1994 on the twelve main national radio stations ;
  • reminder sessions at the end of the week (Friday, Saturday, Sunday) on the same stations until the end of September.

Overall, more than 10,000 ads were broadcast at a cost of FRF 10 m. (US$ 2 million).

Billboard Campaign

Aimed at showing how alcohol chnages vision and reflexes, falsifies appreciation of distance and slows the decision-taking process.

The theme of the radio campaign "Do not let alcohol take the wheel" was reinforced by three additional billboard messages :

  • Do not let alcohol negotiate bends
  • Do not let alcohol appreciate distances
  • Do not let alcohol control speed.

These messages were displayed using deformed writing that represented the risk and potential accident.

There were two series of large-size national displays (minimum 4x3 m.) programmed for large towns and tourist zones during July and August (approximate budget : FRF 5 million, US$ 1 m).


A "quizz" brochure was also distributed in the general public, containing 22 pages (14x10 cm) on the dangers of alcohol, illustrating actual daily situations, easy-to-remember key-figures, a little banter and answers suggesting methods of control wherever possible. 2.5 million copies were printed and distributed in service stations, motorway toll gates, government offices, etc.


The campaign was followed by a survey made by a private, specialist independent organization, among 1,000 people over of the age of 18, representative of the French population.

Impact : a Very Satisfactory Result

67% of the French population and 73% of drivers heard or saw one or more of the radio or billboard messages during the campaign. The impact of the radio was 1.5 times higher (54%) than billboarding (36%).

A Record Acceptance Score

86% of the people interviewed were pleased with the campaign, with a proportion of 84% of motorists. In the 18-25 year bracket, 88% were pleased, whereas in the 26-50 year bracket the figure was 81%. These exceptional scores were mainly due to qualities of :

  • comprehension : 83%
  • stimulation to think : 85%
  • just the right tone : 85%.

Generally, the campaign was considered as being "convincing" by 70% (a good score) of the people involved.

Proven Efficiency

The efficiency of the campaign can only improve as the French appreciate the problem of alcohol and the way to behave. 38% of those involved (33% in the 18-25 age bracket) said that they felt personally concerned and 17% considerably reduced their consumption of alcohol when driving as a result of the campaign. In all behavioural campaigns sponsored by Road Safety department in the last six years, the average level of personal involvement resulting from a campaign is 70% and the degree of declared changed behaviour is 34%.


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