The MOST of Us Prevent Drinking and Driving Campaign pioneered new prevention approaches and was the first in the country to utilize social norms marketing on a statewide level.

This controlled social norms intervention was designed to reduce risky driving after drinking behavior among Montana’s young adults aged 21-34, a group that has been over-represented in alcohol-related crashes statewide. An initial campaign survey found that while only 20.4% of Montana young adults reported having driven within one hour of consuming two or more drinks in the previous month, 92% of respondents perceived that the majority of their peers had done so. Such a disparity between perception and behavior is precisely what social norms theory predicts, and by correcting this misperception, the MOST of Us® Prevent Drinking and Driving Campaign was able to reduce the prevalence of reported driving after drinking in its target population.

MOST of Us carried out a 15-month media campaign in a 15-county intervention area in the western portion of Montana, which is home to half of the state’s 21-34 year old population. This quasi-experimental intervention exposed the selected counties to high doses of the social norms message, and then compared the resulting changes in perceptions, attitudes, and behaviors with the eastern Montana counties that served as the control group. The treatment counties were dosed with high-intensity paid social norms radio and television commercials, theater slides, posters, billboards, local and college newspaper advertisements, and promotional items bearing social norms messages. A low-dosage control area in the eastern half of the state was exposed to low levels of free media, local and college newspaper advertisements, and promotional items. These campaign media in both the high and low dosage areas communicated the normative message that, “MOST Montana Young Adults (4 out of 5) Don’t Drink and Drive.” Additional messages focused on the use of designated drivers and other protective factors, and some were tailored to particular markets with county-specific statistics.

A baseline and three follow-up surveys were conducted at various points before, during, and after the campaign. In each survey, representative samples of respondents in both the treatment and control areas were asked identical questions about their attitudes and behaviors about impaired driving, as well as questions about their perceptions of the norms for these attitudes and behaviors among their peers. Analysis of this self-report data showed unequivocally that the high-intensity social norms campaign improved the accuracy of the target audience’s perceived norms and increased their healthy, preventative attitudes and reported behaviors regarding impaired driving. Compared to data from the control counties, statistically significant results among young adults in the targeted counties showed:

  • A 24.8% relative increase in recall of campaign messages about the majority norms regarding not driving while impaired;
  • A 7.5% relative decrease in the percentage that believed that the average Montanan their age drove after drinking during the previous month;
  • An 11.0% relative increase in the percentage that accurately perceived that the majority of their peers use a non-drinking designated driver;
  • A 13.7% relative decrease in the percentage that reported personally driving after drinking;
  • A 15.0% relative increase in the percentage that reported always using non-drinking designated drivers;
  • A 16.5% relative increase in the percentage that would support passing a law to decrease the Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) legal limit for driving to .08% from .10%.

By the end of the campaign, young adults in the intervention counties were seeing the normative environment more accurately in comparison to their counterparts in the control counties. The correction of their misperceptions about the pervasiveness of driving after drinking among their peers led to positive changes in their personal attitudes and to a reduction in reported frequency of risky behaviors. In contrast, young adults residing in the control counties who were exposed to the traditional fear-based messages reported increased risks associated with impaired driving.

Sponsor: The Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)