Division A - Public Relations Programs
Category 2 - Public Service
DUI Prevention: Saving Lives
City of Tallahassee

Judges' Award

Research/Situation Analysis: Drunk drivers cause more than 20% of all traffic fatalities in the US each year. Alcohol-related crashes kill someone every 31 minutes and non-fatally injure someone every two minutes (NHTSA 2006). During 2005, 16,885 people in the U.S. died in alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes, representing 39% of all traffic-related deaths (NHTSA 2006). The Tallahassee Police Dept. (TPD) arrests more than 400 people a year for drinking and driving. In 2005, they reported 27 crashes, with 29 fatalities, 33% of which were alcohol related and 28% of which involved people between 16 and 24. As home to more than 60,000 college students, drinking and driving is seen as a particular challenge in this “college town.” To help address the problem, TPD initiated a variety of programs to educate young drivers and to get drunk drivers off the streets. These efforts resulted in TPD’s traffic unit being named the Best in the Nation by the National Association of Chiefs of Police. The city’s communications team was asked to create a broad-based program that would communicate the devastating impacts of drinking and driving – particularly targeted to young drivers – and to promote what TPD was doing to help keep young people and its streets safe. A video was seen as the best tool to implement the plan, based on feedback from local university and school contacts. As a local student said in a newspaper article, “Watching a video or talking to someone who had lived through drunk driving is effective.”

Objectives: 1) Communicate the hazards of drinking and driving by producing a video to reach at least 10,000 individuals. 2) Produce a short version of the video to post on YouTube to generate at least 500 views of the video locally and across the country. 3) Reinforce the leadership role of TPD locally and nationally and personally reach young drivers through at least 3 outreach sessions/opportunities 4) Garner at least 2 local media impressions.

Implementation: The original idea for the video came from a city employee whose 19-year-old son, Justin, had nearly lost his life after a serious drinking and driving accident. Further research brought forth the story of a young Tallahassee man, Eric, who is currently serving a 22-year sentence for the death of two young women in a car accident when he was driving under the influence. City WCOT-TV producer Tom Bronakoski traveled to prison to interview Eric, and also interviewed his family as well as the sisters and mother of one of the victims, and gathered heart-wrenching photos of the accident, the trial and prison life. He further interviewed Justin and his family, with a particular focus on messages that would resonate with young drivers such as “I knew it could never happen to me…. but I was wrong.” From TPD’s level, the documentary highlights the city’s SPEED program designed to teach teenagers and their parents about driving dangers and responsibilities. WCOT went along to DUI checkpoints to detail TPD procedures and their zero-tolerance approach to drinking and driving.
The result was a powerful documentary that starts with the black and white starkness of a prison guard tower surrounded by razor wire, with Eric inside saying, “Yeah, sure, people get killed, but I’m very careful. I’m not going to be the one that hurts anybody, much less kills anybody. It won’t happen to me.” A short time later he says, “My name is Eric Smallridge, or I guess I should say it was. I’m now inmate P22679. On May 11, 2002, I made the worst mistake of my life. I chose to drink and drive.” The video tells the stories of the lives of these two young men from every perspective -- from their own feelings, to their parents’ reaction, to the impact on the families of the victims. The segments on the TPD training drive home the fact that young drivers’ confidence often exceeds their abilities. DUI checkpoint footage allows viewers to see first hand that dangerous drivers are on our roadways.
While local media typically don’t report on city TV shows, upon its first airing, a local newspaper columnist wrote a major story on the Editorial page advising, “Every fraternity and sorority needs to get a copy and have a mandatory showing once a month.” The newspaper coverage attracted attention from parents and school systems across the state that wanted to share it with area teens. The City developed an on-line form so residents could buy the video, with over 70 copies of the video purchased within four months. Free copies were given to the local school system where the video is now shown to every driver’s education class. Local driving schools received copies and Florida State University bought 100 copies to hand out to parents at their Homecoming Weekend events. The show aired regularly on the city’s channel WCOT, watched by more than 39% of Tallahassee’s residents (2004 & 2006 Citizen Surveys). It was promoted with a full-page article in the employee newsletter and on the city’s website. The state of Florida has requested a copy and is considering use in all court-mandated DUI classes throughout the state. To address Tallahassee’s ongoing goal of being a leader among local governments, the plan focused on how to extend the reach beyond the region and state. With a goal of reaching young people, the city produced a shorter 9 ½ minute version of the video that was placed on YouTube in early February 2007. E-mails explaining the show and providing the YouTube link were sent to city supervisors, individuals and families involved in the video, public safety networks, government groups, nationwide communication networks, and “friends’ lists.” The response was phenomenal with heartfelt thank-yous from individuals and parents across the country, requests to use in training in other states, and requests from governments nationwide to air the show on their access channels.

Evaluation: 1) Very conservatively, over 55,000 individuals are estimated to have seen the short or long version of the show to date (WCOT 20,000; other communities 30,000; schools, driving classes & rec centers 5,000, etc.) 2) Four months after being posted on YouTube, over 8,000 individuals have viewed the show – vastly eclipsing our goal of 500 and it keeps growing. 3) TPD was prominently promoted as innovative leaders in the video now being shown across the country on YouTube and on government TV channels, and traffic officers interacted with students at 6 City Rec Center presentations where the video was shown. 4) Eleven media impressions were achieved: 2 stories in the local paper, 1 TV story promoting the innovative use of YouTube by the City, 1 nationwide print publication, 2 radio interviews and at least 5 TV community stations airing the hour-long program.

Budget: The city spent $845 on the video ($99 for prison footage, $646 for dubs/ shipping, & $190 producer travel). Video sales have recouped $825 to date for a $20 net cost. All project time was from staff & volunteers.