"Parents will talk to their children about drugs, alcohol, and safe sex, or we will talk about cancer or breast cancer and self-awareness and self-exams. But no one talks about their aging parents and their driving ability," says Mary Leigh Wallace, SAE at Trone PR. "It's the elephant in the middle of the living room everyone dances around."This, however, is not to suggest that all older drivers are intrinsically dangerous, she is careful to note. Surprisingly, statistics show that older drivers aren't involved in more accidents overall than drivers in other age groups, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. But their accident rate is higher on a per-mile-driven basis, and they are more likely to die as a result of injuries sustained in a crash.
With the estimated number of drivers 70 and above slated to soar to as many as 30 million by 2020, the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA) hired Trone to develop "GrandDriver," a six-month pilot information effort in the Washington, DC, area.
Ultimately, the objective of "GrandDriver" was to improve highway safety and decrease fatalities among older drivers. The best way to do this, Wallace says, was to educate the public about the effects of aging on driving ability and to encourage drivers to make wise choices as they grow older.
Their multipronged communication effort sought to include media relations, advertising, brochure distribution, a Speaker's Bureau, professional outreach, a website and toll-free number, and special events.
Trone engaged Dr. Robert N. Butler, an internationally recognized authority on aging, as an expert spokesman, in addition to AAMVA and DMV staff experts, to put a face on the messaging. The experts took part in a two-day media tour, as well as a protracted Speaker's Bureau campaign aimed at senior centers and other civic organizations around DC. Trone also pitched national and local media using collateral press-release materials it developed. The target audience was also invited to visit the website and call the 800 number for more information.
Local TV, radio, and outdoor ads, including bus and metrorail spots, supported this outreach. There were also PSAs in eight surrounding communities, and 30,000 brochures were sent to motor vehicle agencies, retirement communities, and other locations where older drivers would be able to access them. AAMVA also sent direct-mail letters to physicians, pharmacists, and other influencers.
"Our community events and Speaker's Bureau were the two most effective components of the campaign," says Jason King, director of public affairs for the AAMVA. "Pre- and post-campaign research showed that 23% of those who heard the message said they'd talk with their older parents about driving. Response was highest among those who had attended a community gathering or a Speaker's Bureau event." He estimates that the Speaker's Bureau directly reached 2,000 influencers at 64 speaking engagements in the surrounding counties.
The final tally showed that the campaign also achieved major media placements on local Fox and NBC affiliates, in The Washington Post and USA Today, as well as 160 other hits on TV, radio, print, and online. Trone calculated a comparative advertising value of $5 million.
The website received more than 4,000 hits from March 1 to September 1, and the toll-free number registered 483 calls during that time.
Post-campaign research surveyed 276 people in the Greater DC area and showed a significant increase in awareness for the issue.
"After our campaign concluded we had a 100% increase in public awareness for how important it is to maintain driving skills as you age," says King.
Based on the pilot's success, Trone was asked to develop a "GrandDriver-in-a-box" kit with all the tools necessary for agencies to implement similar programs on the local level. Currently, those materials are being distributed to DMVs in the 50 states and Canada.
PR team: American Assoc. of Motor Vehicle Administrators (Arlington, VA) and Trone Public Relations (High Point, NC)
Time frame: April to September 2003