Friday, May 7, 2010

“Over the Limit, Under Arrest” Campaign’s Incorrect Utilization of theTheory of Reasoned Action and Planned Behavior-Taryn Fusco

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), “a motor vehicle crash is considered to be alcohol related if at least one driver or non-occupant (such as pedestrian or pedal cyclist) involved in the crash is determined to have had the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .01 gram per deciliter (g/DL) or higher (if one has a BAC of .08 or higher) (1). There are repercussions against those who choose to disobey this law, which include suspension of license, arrest and even jail time. The PSA campaign “over the limit, under arrest” attempts to frighten people into obeying these laws with images of extremely intoxicated people being pulled over for questioning by policemen, with a background voice stating that if one drives drunk, they absolutely will be arrested and go to prison. This campaign has been proven unsuccessful in terms of deterring drunken driving incidents and catching more people who disobey this law. In an editorial by NJ Law and Police Enforcement news, it is stated that the number of DUI arrests decreased in 2009 as compared to other years which averages 1.4 million arrests(2). Clearly, law enforcement is not picking up, as the police already only catch 4% of offenders each year according to surveys done by MADD (3). The ad uses the Theory of Reasoned Action and Planned Behavior in a very misguided fashion, as it is weak in reforming people’s attitudes toward that particular behavior and its premise of fear is not as captivating as creators might have hoped.

The Theory of Reasoned Action and Planned Behavior is based on the presumption that one’s intention to do a behavior is affected by three things: one’s attitude towards the behavior, the social norms associated with it, and one’s perceived power over the action. An attitude is the belief of the consequences of performing a

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behavior, multiplied by his/her valuation of these consequences. A subjective norm is the perceived expectations from individuals within the relevant group and the strength of his/her valuation of these expectations (4). As a general rule, the more favorable or unfavorable the attitude and the subjective norm, and the greater the perceived control, the stronger the person’s intention will be to comply with more favorable behaviors or abstain from unfavorable behaviors respectively (5). The theory rests on the occurrence of five simple steps, which consist of a) a person’s belief on what will happen if they take part in the behavior in question b) assessment of whether this outcome is good or bad c) one’s belief’s on what others within the relevant atmosphere would think about such a behavior d) how strong one’s inclination is to conform to these norms set by society e) how much power one feels they have over making their intentions a reality. The first four factors form ones’ intention (with factors one and two making up one’s attitude and factors three and four considering the social norms) and the fifth determinant serves to utilize the action in question.

This health model is a planned, rational model that allows for the incorporation of other people’s views along with one’s own personal attitudes towards a behavior. Its thorough cost benefit analysis allows for the intention of a person to be carefully planned out and constructed so as to fit with the social expectations society has and the positive or negative effect that the action will have on one’s own individual life. Its strengths are that the elements in the model are perfectly valid and behaviors can be easily predicted in a normal situation. The intention leading more times than not to a definitive outcome helps in this predictive value (5). There are limitations to this model, however. According to this model, behavior is dynamic and cannot be changed because

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the variables don’t change; however, people have the power to change their behavior at any time throughout the course of a reasoned action. This must be taken into consideration when attempting to predict a behavior. Another limitation to this model is that the valuation of society’s beliefs on a behavior varies from person to person. One person may feel it is more important to fit in and do the right thing by society all the time, where another person may rebel a bit more and not care as much. This often comes into play with drunk driving, as it has been shown the wilder people, more free of inhibitions in their everyday life that do not conform to society’s rules often are the ones to engage in more risky behavior (6). And in this sense, it is not always easy to foresee what these people will do or how to intervene and control their dangerous behaviors.

Since the advent of PSA interventions on drunk driving and the implementation and enforcement of drunk driving laws in the early 1990s, the number of alcohol related fatalities in the United States has significantly decreased. More than 2/3 of Americans say they have tried to stop someone from driving alcohol impaired since the airing of the “friends don’t let friends drive drunk” campaign; this intervention seems to have had a substantial impact on the social norms surrounding drunk driving (7). This is evidence that PSA’s can have an impact on the way one interprets the certain questionable healthy behaviors. This is further demonstrated by the ever decreasing statistics of alcohol related fatalities in the past twenty years, decreasing from 22,500 alcohol related deaths in 1990 (about 51% of the population) to 13,800 deaths in 2008 (about 37% of the population) (8). These changes are strongly correlated with anti-drunk driving campaign ads, with social norms of friends not letting friends drive drunk (seeing it as a negative action) and the attitude of the individual not wanting to upset

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their peers or do anything that will put them in harm’s way. With more of a negative stigma attached to it as time goes on, people are less apt to drive drunk, giving leverage to using the Theory of Reasoned Action and Planned Behavior as a tool to continue to put a stop to such a harmful behavior. Unfortunately, the “over the limit, under arrest” commercial does not quite make this connection, and in turn, does not achieve its ultimate goal of further reducing drunk drivers on the road.

I. The failure to clarify what “over the limit” is

The “over the limit” ad fails to adequately demonstrate what qualifies as over the limit. They show exaggerated imagery of people submerged in alcohol in their cars, swerving all over the place and being unaware of what is going on when pulled over. It is clear that these people are “over the limit”, and this extreme drunk driving is going to have a negative social predilection attached to it. In a survey done by the NHTSA, 97% of Americans already view drunk driving as a threat to their lives and their families (1). The problem is, most don’t know what “drunk” really is or how many drinks it takes to get there. The alcohol surrounding the drivers in their car in this commercial may not be representative of the two or three drinks the average person has before making the decision to drive. A female who weighs 120 pounds and has two drinks within the hour has a BAC of 0.08. One drink is equivalent to 1 ¼ oz of 80 proof liquor, 12 oz of beer, or 4 oz of table wine (9). After two beers, many women would drive home, no question asked, as they are not 5 or 6 drinks in for the night and are not visibly intoxicated. The people in the “over the limit” PSA were clearly more than two drinks in, as they are submerged in alcohol, belching from drinking too much and are visibly impaired. Many

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may feel that that is what the legal limit represents, when it actuality it is much lower than that.

According to the Theory of Reasoned Action and Planned Behavior, the average person would weigh the benefits and costs of actually driving over the legal limit if they were aware of what that limit was. The “over the limit” campaign attempts to make people “think twice” about getting in a car after a night of drinking, however it fails to realize that people will not think twice if they do not look like the people portrayed in this commercial. People may genuinely believe they are not above the legal limit if they do not look like those people swimming in alcohol in the commercial, and therefore, they will not consider themselves a danger. If one was aware of what the legal limit was and that they were above it, thoughts would run through their head as to how dangerous it was to themselves and others if they lost control, if they would get arrested and what the implications of that may be, and what their peers and families would think if they knew that they had made such a bad decision. By not being aware of what BAC is over the limit and what their individual BAC is on a given night, people are not given the opportunity to weigh these costs and benefits; they may feel that as long as they feel fine, they are fine to drive. Not realizing the extent to which they are impaired is a problem and it should be emphasized in this ad that one can just have “one too many” and be over the limit, therefore not adequate to drive.

The “over the limit” intervention, in an attempt to deter dangerous driving while impaired, sends the message that if you are swimming in alcohol, there will be repercussions for that in terms of an arrest. However, in 2007, drivers above the legal limit, but below 0.15, accounted for about a third of all alcohol-related crashes in the

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United States (10). It is obviously still a large threat to society to drive after what people consider to be minimal drinking, however, what is depicted in the PSA as a threat is someone who is clearly above 0.15. At 0.05, still below the legal limit of o.08, drivers are still 11.1 times more likely to be involved in an alcohol related crash than those that have not been drinking at all (11). Imagine what a level above the legal limit is capable of. However, this commercial does not deter this people using the Theory of Reasoned Action and Planned Behavior because it implies that 0.08 is a greater amount of drinks than the 1-3 it really takes. One is going to believe that that is what above the legal limit looks like and if they do not look like that or act in that way, they are not partaking in a behavior deemed negative by society or that will hurt them personally. The average person sees that they have a greater control over themselves than the people in the commercial and therefore, do not feel this applies to them.

II. Extreme portrayal of drunk driving does not capture people

Perceived control over a situation is a key aspect to the Theory of Reasoned Action and Planned Behavior. In this PSA campaign, the drivers are shown to have absolutely no control, swerving all over the road, seeming to doze off at the wheel and generally seeming to lack many motor functions. By showing this lack of power over such a situation, the ad attempts to make people believe that that is what they will look like if they drive impaired. By showing the moment of being pulled over and how inebriated they look when being reprimanded, the ad hopes to deter such behavior because people will never want to look that stupid to others or have to deal with the consequences of legal action. However, if one feels they are more in control than those depicted on screen, they may believe that getting arrested and getting sent to prison will

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not be their outcome. This commercial actually is a setback in this sense because it’s representation of what constitutes drunk driving and loss of control is so skewed. The TRA TPB model states that the more one engages in such questionable behaviors, and the more times the outcome is favorable to them, they will have an increased sense of control in such a situation. The perceived lack of this control in this PSA is so exaggerated that it does not reach people, as they do not relate to the extreme impairment portrayed. The belief that one will get to the level of those people in the commercial and evaluate society’s norms and what is right and wrong is simply unrealistic; if anyone is to be reached it is those who are drinking a lesser amount but are still a danger to society and are not cognizant of that fact.

One’s attitude toward drunk driving is not changed when watching this commercial. It is something most people cannot relate to and therefore, many people feel that it does not apply to them. The attitude one has towards a behavior is oftentimes shaped by the assessment of what the outcome will be, whether this outcome is good or bad, what others will think of this behavior and the degree of motivation to comply with such a standard (12). Everyone sees this commercial and associates it as “bad behavior”. Confusion at simple questions asked by a policeman, dangerously swerving while driving and sloppy movement is behavior that is condoned by no one in society. If someone takes part in a less extreme version of the same activity, however, one can reason society will not think it is as bad and the outcome of their action will not be as bad. According to a study done by the American Psychological Association, attitudes are oftentimes merely judgments that people sometimes make but do not represent an underlying source of that judgment or behavior; people simply base

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attitude on a series of anticipated outcomes or expectancies. In the case of drunk driving, if one feels that their behavior is not extreme, then society is not as quick to look down upon them. In addition, nothing bad is as likely to happen, especially if one has achieved the desired outcome of such an action before (13). Instead of using this disconnected commercial as a reference for what will happen if they drink and drive, people make decisions based on prior experiences with the activities they have done. The attitude towards such behaviors one may partake in is not even something people may compare to the confused, sloppy, out of control images they see on the screen of this ad.

III. Slogan does not have intended effect

The “over the limit” campaign emphasizes that if one does drive drunk (which is actually defined as driving over 0.08 or above), they absolutely will get caught and be arrested. Many people, having driven drunk before and having not been arrested may take this threat less seriously. Of course people know it is always a possibility that one will be caught and they may be over the limit, but when one proclaims that it “WILL” happen in such a certain manner, it weakens their argument. The fact is only 1 arrest is made for every 772 episodes of driving within 2 hours of drinking, and for every 88 episodes of driving over the illegal limit in the US. Of the approximately 4.2 million people aged 16-20 in 2002 and 2003 who reported DUI involving alcohol or illicit drugs in the past year, about 4% (169,000) indicated that they had been arrested and booked for DUI (7). The Denver post proclaimed that police believe “with the DUI cases, the intent or goal is for punishment to seem severe enough that they never drive drunk again.” However, with the overloaded court dockets, overcrowded jails and an

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overwhelmed probation system, it is hard to enforce such repercussions that are promised (14). These backlashes are a crucial component to the fear tactic attempted in this campaign. However, there doesn’t seem to be enough resources to punish these people or enough of a percentage of these people caught to have a significant impact on scaring people out of such a behavior. The intent of this ad is obviously to instill fear into people that they will be reprimanded and sent to prison, however, many people know someone or have they themselves driven drunk, and according to these statistics, the vast majority have not had any serious run-ins with the law.

According to the Theory of Reasoned Action and Planned Behavior, people often look to the outcomes of previous behaviors they have engaged in and evaluate whether those outcomes were positive or negative. People use their own reality and their own experiences as references for whether or not a behavior is favorable or unfavorable, and a commercial telling otherwise is not going to be taken as seriously. The young people that partake in such behaviors are usually age 21-34 and are mostly well meaning, average people who don’t intend any harm but continue to drink and drive. Many have driven impaired multiple times in the past without getting into trouble. They tend to feel either invincible or overly optimistic about the control they have over their lives (7). The reality is, most people have not been caught when drinking and driving and so to use arrests as the ultimate deterrent is not going to be effective. If anything, it may cause impaired drivers to just avoid roads they know are heavily patrolled by policemen. At the end of the day, if one has done such a behavior before, or knows people who have and have never gotten caught, chances are, they will do it again without a second thought.

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IV. A more effective implementation of the Theory of Reasoned Action and Planned Behavior

A commercial that was significantly more successful in implementing a stronger anti-drunk driving attitude amongst people on both a social and individual level was the “Buzzed Driving is Drunk Driving” campaign. This theory more triumphantly applies the Theory of Reasoned Action and Planned Behavior to sway people’s attitudes on what drunk driving really entails and how negative a stigma there is attached to it. In this ad, there are a bunch of different scenes of a party in which people are drinking and having a good time. In one scene, a girl knocks her tooth out with a beer bottle, and a voiceover states “it’s easy to tell when you’ve had too much to drink.” The next scene is a different girl who is laughing, not acting outlandishly or foolishly with a beer in her hand. She seems to just be having a social drink. She finishes the drink and with her keys in her hands, slightly stumbles out the door, and a voiceover says “but what if you’ve had just one too many? Buzzed driving is drunk driving.” Seeing the first girl, people would naturally look down upon her driving home that night, being so “wasted” that she knocked out her front tooth. However, if one was at a party talking to the second girl and she drove home, people would not think as much of it. Being caught up in a social atmosphere and drinking, one might assume that since she’s more sober than a lot of the people there, she’s fine to drive. This ad brings it to people’s attention that a person who is less drunk in comparison to the rest of the people at a party can still be very much impaired.

Clearly watching this type of situation on TV as a sober observer, it is obvious that the “buzzed” girl should not be driving. It brings awareness to a completely different type of action that should be deemed unacceptable because it is against the

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law. When one watches this commercial, they realize on a more personal level that that is what they look like when they’ve had only 2 or 3 drinks, unlike in the “over the limit” ad which shows what one looks like after 7 or 8. The reality is, that person does not look sober. About 7 in 10 (69%) people agreed that “this ad makes me think twice about driving when I feel buzzed from alcohol” (7). Not only is the social stigma changing as the perception “buzzed driving to be drunk driving” catches on but people on a more individual level will realize that they in fact, are probably exhibiting more impaired signs than they realize just as the girl showed in the commercial.

The “over the limit” campaign fails to realize the desire one has for individual autonomy. Giving one information and shedding new light on a behavior is more effective than trying to “scare” one into a behavior. This is really where the “over the limit” ad goes horribly wrong because it fails to bring re-evaluation to the social norms attached to buzzed driving, and the attitudes of individuals that are considering partaking in such a behavior. This re-evaluation is crucial when it comes to the utilization of the TRA TPB model in decision making. Fear does not make one contemplate the severity of their actions, it simply serves, if anything, as nuisance that is not based on one’s perception of reality. To put into action the behavioral process that will put a stop to such a negative behavior, it is more invaluable to simply give one the scenario as it truly appears and allow people to judge and make their own decisions off of that. A study recently done by University of Michigan revealed that people are more likely to respond to straight facts given to them, and given the freedom to make choices, often want to make the more responsible, socially acceptable decision (15). Not providing any facts and trying to scare one out of a behavior that is portrayed as so

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extreme is not the right tactic at all. By not addressing BAC and the dangers of drunk driving, “over the limit” is missing a key component to what would make a successful argument in the fight against drunk driving.

In conclusion

The Theory of Reasoned Action and Planned Behavior is not correctly utilized in the “over the limit, under arrest” PSA campaign. The campaign did not specify what “over the limit” is, therefore not correctly informing people of what the negative behavior in question actually entails. Then they show extremely intoxicated people as the example of the bad behavior of drunk driving, giving people the perception that this is what will get them arrested. People perceive themselves to be way more in control than they actually are after a couple drinks, and definitely more so than the people depicted in this commercial. A more effective way to reach people about such an issue is to show what actually happens much of the time when people decide to get behind the wheel, which is having a couple drinks and then leaving. The “buzzed driving IS drunk driving” ad allows one to think about the issue in a whole new way, as they may realize they are not as in control as they thought watching the “buzzed” girl in action; being less drunk than others does not mean one is not impaired. This commercial brings awareness to a whole different kind of drunk driving that they may have never considered and it allows for the re-evaluation of what is socially acceptable and safe behavior.

Using the scare tactic of “you will definitely be caught and arrested” is also ineffective, as many people have driven under the influence and have not gotten caught. It weakens the argument of the “over the limit” campaign to say that this definitely will

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happen, because it has not definitely happened before. Using a lighter push in the right direction as the buzzed driving ad does is more effective, as it allows one to feel as though they are still making this decision on their own. One will be more likely to consider all aspects of the behavioral model, taking into account how relevant groups will feel about such a behavior now that it has been brought to their attention through this ad. One will also consider how reliable their perceived control is while drinking and what can actually happen if they do get behind the wheel. Scaring one into doing the right thing is not going to make society think twice about evaluating whether the action will be positive or negative, it will just make it a bigger obstacle to avoid the police when impaired. It does not make one think the action is any less dangerous, people will not view the action as any less negative and people’s control over the situation is not perceived as any weaker than previously believed.


1. National Highway Traffic Safety Association. “Impaired Driving.” USgov.

2. New Jersey Police and Law Enforcement News. “Yes a DUI is a Real Arrest.” NJLawman.

3. MADD. “Statistics.” MADD.

4. “The Theory of Reasoned Action and Planned Behavior.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Web. 15 April 2010.

5. Ajzen, I. (1988). “Attitudes, personality, and behavior.” Milton-Keynes, England: Open University Press & Chicago, IL: Dorsey Press pp.104-127

6. Donovan DM, Queisser HR, Salzberg PM, Umlauf R. “Intoxicated and bad drivers: subgroups within the same population of high-risk men drivers.” J Stud Alcohol. 1985;46:375–382.

7. Adcouncil. “Buzzed Driving is Drunk Driving: Drunk Driving Campaign Case Study” TheAdCouncil.

8. Nakate, Shashank. “Drunk Driving Statistics.” Buzzle.

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9. R.M. Hamilton OUPD. “The Police Notebook: BAC Calculator.” University of Oklahoma Police Department.

10. Wall Street Journal; June 9, 2009; “Drunk Driving Foes Split on Severity of Penalties”; David Kesmodel; pp. A6

11. Micheal D. Greenberg, Andrew R. Morral, Arvind K. Jain; “How can repeat drunk drivers be influenced to change? Analysis of the Association between Drunk Driving and DUI Recidivists Attitudes and Beliefs.” The Journal of Studies on Alcohol Volume 65 Issue 4. Publication Date: July 2004

12. In: Edberg M. “Individual health behavior theories (ch4).” Essentials of Health Behavior: Social and Behavioral Theory in Public Health. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett Publishers 2007, pp. 35-49.

13. Alan W. Stacy, Peter M. Bentler, Brian R. Flay “Attitudes and Health Behavior in Diverse Populations: Drunk Driving, Alcohol Use, Binge Eating, Marijuana Use and Cigarette Use.” American Psychological Association Inc and the Division of Health Psychology 1994, Vol. 13, No. 1, 73-85.

14. Kevin Vaughan, David Olinger. “DUI Arrest Stats Staggering.” The Denver Post. The Denver Post, 26 April 2009.

15. C. Raymond Brigham, Michael R. Elliot, Jean T. Shope. “Social and Behavioral Characteristics of Young Adult Drink/Drivers Adjusted for Level of Alcohol Use.” University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.

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