SPRINGFIELD, IL—With the drunk-driving fatality rate nearly tripling in Illinois in the past year, the state's Department of Motor Vehicles announced Monday it will re-examine its controversial "One For The Road" driver-relaxation promotional campaign.
"Driving a car can be an incredibly stressful experience," DMV spokesperson Dale Penn said. "That was the idea behind One For The Road—we felt it was important for motorists to loosen up a bit before getting behind the wheel."
"It does seem, though," Penn added, "that the program may have needed some fine-tuning."
According to Penn, the One For The Road program had its roots in a DMV study revealing a positive correlation between alcohol consumption and driver confidence.
"We found that people who had consumed at least four beers or two mixed drinks before getting behind the wheel were twice as likely to believe they were in no danger of getting hurt or killed," Penn said. "When operating a serious piece of machinery like a car, that's just the kind of confidence you need."
Among the DMV study's other findings: A majority of elderly respondents and female college freshmen reported being "more mellow" and "really tuned into the road" after just a single drink.
Launched last fall, the $3 million One For The Road campaign included talks by police officers at Illinois high schools encouraging kids to start "thinking about drinking"; a statewide drunk-driving poster contest; and a series of print and television ads featuring the slogans, "Before You Hit The Road, Hit The Sauce," and "Unwind... To Survive!"
In the time since the September 1996 launch of One For The Road, some 2,300 DUI-related fatalities have occurred in Illinois, a 275 percent increase over the previous year.
"Perhaps we need to reconsider certain aspects of the program," said Bill Gerhardt, co-creator of the program. "We need to ask ourselves, 'What parts of this program are not working, and how can we fix them?'"
Despite the widespread criticism of One For The Road, some safety experts have expressed concern over what might happen without the program.
"If this program is cut, there are going to be countless alcoholics driving around sober, their hands shaking so bad they can't even keep them on the wheel. It's just not safe," said Hal Knauer, a safety advisor for the Illinois Board of Transportation. "A person like that relies on alcohol for steady nerves."
Added Glenn Sturbert, an Illinois-licensed driver-examination official: "Some of these 16-year-olds come in here so nervous that I'm afraid to get in the car with them. Now, I myself can't give them something to take the edge off—the DMV only has a Class B liquor license—but what's going on at home that the parental concern isn't there?"
Penn noted that even with the program's suspension, many brochures are available from the DMV offering information on "getting loose." "These materials are there so that no driver can ever claim ignorance as a reason for having driven in an unnecessarily tense state," he said.
One For The Road is not the only DMV program currently under fire. Also being investigated are the campaigns "Smoke Up For Safety" and "Pack First!"