While most of the focus around road safety in New Zealand has been on alcohol in recent years, drug driving is also a serious issue. It's not really a laughing matter, but, perhaps following on from the success of 'Ghost Chips', NZTA and Clemenger Group have once again gone down the humorous road to show Kiwis that if you're laughing at soap, taking too long to buy 12 frosty pigs or staring at a waving cat then you shouldn't be driving.
Conversations generated by stage one of the campaign, which captured the reactions of passengers as they discovered their driver was under the influence of drugs, showed the main drug people admitted to using and then driving under the influence of was cannabis. The results from a national poll showed that 56 percent of respondents thought drug driving was a problem but 32 percent said it was safe to smoke cannabis and then drive. So, given this attitude and its widespread use in New Zealand, the drug is receiving special attention in the next phase.
That attitude doesn't gel with the research showing around one-quarter of all drivers and motorcyclists killed in road crashes had cannabis present in their system, with or without other substances. Cannabis is also the second most common drug found in blood samples of deceased drivers, behind alcohol, and cannabis impaired drivers are more likely to cause car crashes than people who aren’t stoned. And the more they’ve smoked the worse the story gets.
In comparison to drink-driving, less is known about the extent of drugged-driving in New Zealand and the impact it has on road safety. Up until recently it's been difficult to test for and a lack of empirical research in New Zealand exists (often because not too many are keen to be surveyed about their illegal drug use). But, according to The Economist, New Zealand loves the wacky backy, with 14.6 percent of the population 15-64 having smoked it in the past year, compared to the global average of 3.9 percent. So some believe that drugs may be a bigger factor in crashes than officially reported. Add all this together and you can see why there's need for a long-term behavioural change campaign.
Linda Major, Clemenger BBDO's director of social marketing says the next stage of the campaign focuses specifically on those who use cannabis, and particularly those in their thirties and forties, a group that thinks they're okay to drive after smoking and don't consider their behaviour to be a road safety issue. Some of these so-called 'sensible stoners' think the drug has little effect on their driving and many even believe that the drug makes them a safer driver as they feel more focused and drive slower.
She says the campaign, which was shot by Robin Walters of Curious, aims to get those who like a bit of a toke to question this attitude and acknowledge that their reaction time is slower. And it does this with the help of some observational insights, many of them quite hilarious, from 'experts' like dairy owners, fish and chip shop workers and the children of the target audience.
"Humour is quite disarming ... It's early days in this campaign, but rather than throw all the stats and research at them and say it applies to them, we're trying to get them to self-reflect and say 'that could be me'. And humour allows us to do that."
Unlike drink driving, safe limits cannot be established and it is difficult to enforce. It's also illegal and therefore unregulated (although given what's happening in the US, that might not be the case for too much longer). All of these issues make it difficult to target people who use cannabis and drive. But media has been targeted at specific television channels and shows, cinema and online sites that are popular with people in their thirties and forties.
NZTA hasn't shied away from showing Kiwis indulging in the booze to get its message about drink-driving across. This approach has been criticised by other groups for normalising that behaviour. But it's the reality. It's just trying to modify that reality slightly to improve road safety. And while it could possibly be accused of condoning illegal drug use with this campaign, she says it simply wants people to recognise the potential danger of driving under the influence of drugs.
"It's a fine line. We're still the government. So it's been quite hard to find where the line is. We can't suggest that we're pro-smoking, but we have to accept that it happens and that an anti-drugs message just won't work. We want to show people that it's dangerous to jump in the car, and it's our role to raise that."
She says it will soon be focusing on driving under the influence of prescription drugs, and it will work with pharmacies to try and get users to heed the advice on the packets not to drive or operate heavy machinery, something she says is typically ignored.
- Check out some FAQs and some of the research about drugged-driving here.