In 2002, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) was faced with a disturbing statistic: That year, 35% of in-state traffic fatalities were alcohol-related, a 27% increase since 1999.
Because the rate of such fatalities rises during the summer and nearly 40% of Colorado's alcohol-related traffic deaths occur between Memorial Day and Labor Day, the CDOT was determined to launch an aggressive campaign against drunken driving to reduce this statistic.
To achieve its objectives, the CDOT created DUI Checkpoint Colorado. Under the 14-week push, at least four sobriety checkpoints were set up across various counties each weekend, and sobriety laws were strictly enforced.
To help get the word out, the CDOT sought the services of Linhart McClain Finlon Public Relations (LMF) to develop an ongoing media campaign that would raise awareness of the dangers and repercussions of drunken driving.
To sustain media interest in the campaign, LMF needed to consistently interact with the press in fresh ways, aiming to go beyond just the rattling off of statistics. LMF coordinated visual and participatory activities to maintain interest, having the media take part in mock checkpoints and mock arrests, among other active illustrations. "It's experiential, and it really enables [the media] to tell the story," says Sharon Linhart, LMF president.
Ultimately, the media was a vehicle to help attain the main goals. "To raise public awareness that drunk driving is a serious threat on our highways and that [state] law-enforcement agencies would be enforcing the law through sobriety checkpoints from Memorial Day to Labor Day," says Mairi Nelson, PR manager for safety programs at the CDOT.
The first event to garner media attention was the Memorial Day kickoff news conference at Invesco Field. The site offered a spacious parking lot for the inter- active media event, which took place two days before the first scheduled checkpoint. Media members were invited to drive through a mock sobriety checkpoint, where they experienced trial roadside sobriety tests.
To further promote media interaction, LMF helped coordinate the August Heat Wave Weekend news conference, held at Chatfield State Park. Updated statistics for driving under the influence (DUI) and boating under the influence were released. Fatal vision goggles, which simulate different levels of alcohol impairment, were also distributed to media representatives, who then participated in boat ride-a-longs with state- parks law-enforcement officials. The demonstration was to show the media and, in turn, the public how difficult and dangerous it is to function as an impaired driver.
Finally, to show the media the DUI booking process, the team coordinated a Labor Day mock- booking news conference. The interactive event was held before Labor Day weekend at Jefferson County Jail, where media members were fingerprinted, photographed, questioned by police, and locked up. The point was to show what it is like to be booked, explains Nelson.
"The message, clearly, is that you don't want to go to jail and you don't want to be booked," she adds.
Alcohol-related deaths from Memorial Day through Labor Day were down 31% from 2002 and down 38% from 2001. There were no alcohol-related deaths during Memorial Day weekend or Labor Day weekend last year for the first time in state history. Overall, alcohol-related traffic deaths dropped by 18% last year, compared to 2002.
The effort will continue as long as checkpoints show an impact in reducing alcohol-related traffic fatalities, Nelson reports.
PR team: Linhart McClain Finlon Public Relations and Colorado Department of Transportation (both Denver)
Campaign: DUI Checkpoint Colorado
Time frame: Memorial Day through Labor Day 2003