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Can advertising ban curb road deaths?


I have a new addiction. It’s called quiz night and if you’re looking for a nice mid-week relaxation exercise, I highly recommend it.

You get a table of friends together at a participating pub and push the limits of your combined general-knowledge powers. It is highly addictive and you get to choose your own team name. We’re known as the Dead Parrot Society.

I tell you this because I noticed something dangerous during the popular-music quiz section last week. As a fan of rock music, I was of little use to my teammates, so I did some people watching.

I was alarmed at the number of obviously inebriated people who stumbled through the doors and into their cars. This behaviour was fairly shocking to me, but what really got to me was how commonplace and familiar this practice has become.
I think I know the reason why: it’s easier to drive under the influence than it is to go through the hassle of paying someone to drive you.

There’s also no real reason not to drive drunk. It’s not like anything will happen to you. If you happen to be pulled over by an honest policeman, you’re likely to get a hefty fine or your licence might be suspended. But since we tend not to respect the traffic laws in South Africa, the guilty party might pay the fine and then proceed to drive without a licence.

A person might even strike it lucky and get pulled over by a corrupt officer. In this (likely) scenario, the drunk driver merely hands over some lunch money and continues their journey home.
The third reason why I suspect people do it, is ego. I’m sure there are many people out there who claim they drive better under the influence because they concentrate harder.

So what’s to be done? Obviously what’s being done now isn’t working. This brought my attention to the highly controversial proposed ban on alcohol advertising, which will also spell the end for sponsorship of sports teams.
I initially thought it was a marvellous idea: no more stupid whiskey ads while I wait for the movie to start in the cinema.

That’s not really what the government has in mind though. With this bill, it hopes to eradicate alcohol abuse and a number of issues related to alcohol use. It’s important to note the difference between the two, as they’re nowhere near the same thing. A guy who uses his kids’ school fees to feed his drinking habit and a guy just relaxing after a hard day at work are definitely not the same thing.

One of the issues - and the biggest by far in my mind - is drunk driving. Will the ban on advertising solve this problem?

I’d like to think it will, but in my opinion, it won’t. Banning alcohol advertising won’t make people forget that booze exists. They just won’t be aware that there’s a new flavour of their favourite drink or a new beer claiming to be the real taste of Africa. Alcohol exists and there’s nothing anyone can do to keep people from drinking it.

Fighting the booze itself isn’t going to work. What really needs attention is the public’s attitude towards alcohol and what you can and can’t do when you’ve used it. Instead of forcing the liquor companies to stop advertising, why not force them to advertise the dangers of their product. Actually, many of them already do that, so are they even the guilty party here? I’m not so sure.

For an answer, I turned to a man whose opinion on road-safety matters I respect more than any other! Rob Handfield-Jones, road-safety expert and managing director of

In his opinion, the ban on alcohol advertising will have an effect. He asks a very pertinent question: if advertising doesn’t sell alcohol, why would liquor companies advertise it? According to him, alcohol causes at least equivalent levels of harm to cigarette smoking and we banned cigarette advertising more than a decade ago, so an alcohol - advertising ban is the next logical step.

“Another counter-argument to an advertising ban is that liquor companies say ‘Enjoy responsibly’ in their adverts and it is not their fault if people don’t take their advice. The statistics prove that most road users are not capable of exercising that responsibility, so we should probably stop encouraging them to do something we know they won’t do. Alcohol is an intoxicant and in large enough doses it is a fatal poison.

Even a single drink increases road-accident risk. The allure of sophisticated alcohol advertising heightens the chances of people taking the drink that kills them,” he says.
It’s a very good argument from his side that certainly did its part in convincing me that this ban is a good idea after all.

We’ll have to wait and see how it plays out, but for now I’d like to ask your comments on the subject. As always, send your comments, thoughts or criticisms to

In closing, I’d like to share Mr Handfield- Jones’ closing comments in our correspondence. I think it’s something, whichever side of this argument you support, that everyone can agree on.

“I have no problem with alcohol per se and I enjoy drinking it. But I won’t drink even a single drink if I have to drive and if that means having to drink water or cool drink at social functions, I see it as an investment in society, not a sacrifice. I don’t want to have to live with the knowledge that I wiped out a family because I was under the influence.”

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