Cars drive through an underpass in Addis Ababa. Tiksa Negeri/Reuters

Leaders in the capital city of Addis Ababa have rolled out a campaign aiming to reduce crashes caused by alcohol.

Since 2013, Ethiopia has experienced a 63 percent increase in its number of road collisions. While a variety of factors caused these crashes, drunk driving played a significant role in the surge. In 2015, when the country’s capital, Addis Ababa, became one of 10 cities selected to be part of the Bloomberg Philanthropies Initiative for Global Road Safety, whose aim is to reduce road traffic injuries and fatalities, city leaders requested that the first order of business be a focus on the problem of drinking and driving.

Late last month, these leaders, in partnership with Bloomberg, launched a media campaign to work toward this goal. Two poignant public service announcements will air on Ethiopian television through the end of October.

One of the PSAs shows a man drinking while watching soccer at a bar with a friend. His cell phone rings, displaying a photo of his wife and young daughter. As he prepares to leave, the friend proposes to drive him home. The man refuses, saying, “Once I’ve had a drink, you know how well I drive.” We subsequently see him crash into the back of a truck, his lifeless body at the wheel as the phone rings beside him, the image of the wife and daughter again appearing. “Drinking and driving ruins lives,” a voice says. “Never drink and drive.”

The other ad is told from the point of view of a mother who has lost her only child, a daughter, to a drunk driver. She peruses photos of her lost child, speaking of her accomplishments and how she was to have graduated from university that year. “A drunk driver killed my buoyant girl,” she says. “He took her away from me…I can’t find solace.”

The ads’ wrenching tone is deliberate. Though study results vary, a significant number show that well done mass media campaigns can help reduce such problems as alcohol-impaired driving and alcohol-related crashes, especially if they appeal to viewers’ emotions. (The documentary filmmaker Werner Herzog’s 35-minute PSA on the devastating consequences of texting while driving is a haunting, if unusually long, example.)

Research on mass media campaigns also shows that they are more effective if done in conjunction with other preventive measures, such as legislation and law enforcement. Addis Ababa’s officials are looking to strengthen the role of police in cracking down on drinking and driving. This would include such tactics as increasing budgets and conducting trainings for officers, according to Sandra Mullin, Senior Vice President for Policy, Advocacy, and Communication at Vital Strategies, which works with Bloomberg on its initiative.

“People have to be afraid of getting caught,” says Mullin. “A specter of punishment along with a hard-hitting media campaign has a much higher chance of success than one without the other.”

About the Author

Mimi Kirk
Mimi Kirk

Mimi Kirk is a contributing writer to CityLab. She lives in Washington, D.C.

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