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Mass Media Campaigns are Effective in Preventing Alcohol-Impaired Driving

A CDC–led systematic review of the research literature revealed that, under certain conditions, mass media campaigns are effective in preventing alcohol–impaired driving. Based on these findings, the Task Force on Community Preventive Services–a 15–member, nonfederal group with expertise in public health policy, behavioral and social sciences–issued a recommendation for mass media campaigns that are carefully planned, well executed, attain adequate audience exposure, and are implemented in conjunction with other ongoing alcohol–impaired driving prevention activities.

Estimating Campaign Effects

Mass media campaigns to prevent alcohol–impaired driving are typically carried out in conjunction with other programs and policies that have the same goals. Thus, isolating the effects of mass media campaigns can be difficult. To address this problem, researchers only reviewed studies that either (1) evaluated campaigns over periods during which other activities to prevent alcohol–impaired driving did not change substantially, or (2) used statistical models to account for the possible effects of concurrent prevention activities.

Evidence of Effectiveness

Findings from the systematic review are based on eight studies (reported in six papers)1–6 that evaluated the effectiveness of mass media campaigns on fatal crashes, fatal and nonfatal injury crashes combined, crashes that damage property, and drivers' blood alcohol levels. (Two additional studies were excluded from the review based on study quality criteria.7,8) The campaigns reviewed had several components in common: pretesting of messages; high levels of audience exposure, generally achieved through paid advertising; and corresponding prevention efforts at the local level (e.g., high–visibility enforcement of impaired driving laws).

Of the campaigns evaluated, three focused on increasing public awareness of local law enforcement activities and the legal consequences of drinking and driving.1–3 The remaining five studies (reported in three papers) evaluated campaigns that emphasized the social and health consequences of alcohol–impaired driving.4–6 Overall, the evaluated studies showed median decreases of 13% (interquartile range, 6% to 14% decrease) for total alcohol–related crashes and 10% (interquartile range, 6% to 15% decrease) for injury crashes. No clear differences were noted in the effectiveness of campaign messages that emphasized legal consequences versus social and health consequences, though certain messages and delivery channels may be more effective with particular audiences.

Cost–benefit analyses were available for two of the reviewed campaigns.4,9 The estimated societal benefits exceeded the costs of developing and airing the campaign messages by factors of 8 and 21, respectively.


1. Worden JK, Waller JA, Riley TJ. The Vermont public education campaign in alcohol and highway safety: A final review and evaluation. Waterbury (VT): Vermont Department of Mental Health; 1975. CRASH Report No.: I–5. 

2. Epperlein T. Initial deterrent effects of the crackdown on drinking drivers in the state of Arizona. Accid Anal Prev 1987;19(4):285–303.

3. McLean AJ, Kloeden CN, McCaul KA. Drink–driving in the general night–time driving population, Adelaide 1989. Aust J Public Health 1991;15(3):190–3.

4. Lastovicka JL. Highway safety mass media youth project. Washington (DC): Dept. of Transportation (US), National Highway Traffic Safety Administration; 1987. Contract No.: DTNH22–85–C–15404.

5. Newstead S, Cameron M, Gantzer S, Vulcan A. Modelling of some major factors influencing road trauma trends in Victoria 1989–1993. Melbourne, Australia: Monash University Accident Research Centre; 1995. Report No.: 74.

6. Cameron M, Vulcan P. Evaluation review of the supplementary road safety package and its outcomes during the first two years. Auckland, New Zealand: Land Transport Safety Authority; 1998.

7. Macpherson T, Lewis T. New Zealand drink–driving statistics: the effectiveness of road safety television advertising. Marketing Bulletin 1998;9:40–51.

8. Tay R. Effectiveness of the anti–drink driving advertising campaign in New Zealand. Road and Transport Research 1999;8(4):3–15.

9. Cameron MH, Haworth N, Oxley J, Newstead SV, Le T. Evaluation of Transport Accident Commission road safety advertising. Melbourne, Australia: Monash University Accident Research Centre; 1993. Report No.: 52.

1 in 3 crash diver deaths involves a drunk driver. CDC Vital Signs.
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