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Most of Us Don't Drink and Drive:
Reducing Drinking and Driving among Young Adults in Western Montana

The MOST of Us Prevent Drinking and Driving Campaign is the first demonstration of the potential of applying social norms theory to the problem of impaired driving in a large statewide population. This controlled social norms intervention was designed to reduce risky impaired driving behavior among Montana’s young adults aged 21-34 (Linkenbach and Perkins, 2004).

An initial campaign survey found that while only 20% of Montana young adults had 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 reducing this misperception, the MOST of Us Prevent Drinking and Driving Campaign was able to reduce the prevalence of impaired driving in its target population.

With funding from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Montana Department of Transportation (MDT), a 15-month media campaign was carried out in a 15-county intervention area in the western portion of Montana. This intervention area 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. Most of this media 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 control area in the eastern half of the state was exposed to low levels of free social norms media, local and college newspaper advertisements, and promotional items as well as the fear-based messages commonly produced by other sources. Specific controls were instigated to eliminate or severely restrict the use of fear-based media efforts in the treatment counties.

A baseline and three follow-up statewide surveys were conducted at various points before, during, and after the campaign with a total of over 3,500 respondents. 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, preventive attitudes and behaviors regarding impaired driving. Compared to data from the control counties, statistically significant results among young adults in the targeted counties showed:

  • An 8% relative decrease in the percentage who believed that the average Montanan their age drove after drinking during the previous month;
  • An 11% relative increase in the percentage who accurately perceived that the majority of their peers use a non-drinking designated driver;
  • A 14% relative decrease in the percentage who reported personally driving after drinking;
  • A 15% relative increase in the percentage always using non-drinking designated drivers;
  • A 17% relative increase in the percentage who supported passing a law to decrease the Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) legal limit for driving to .08%.

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 reduction of their misperceptions about the pervasiveness of impaired driving among their peers led to positive changes in their personal attitudes and to a reduction in 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.

This research provides practical implications for traffic safety programmers, challenges widely-held assumptions about the efficacy of fear-based media, and signals the need for future research on the behavior-changing potential of promoting positive norms.


Linkenbach, J. and Perkins, H.W. "Most of Us Prevent Drinking and Driving: A Successful Social Norms Campaign to Reduce Impaired Driving among Young Adults in Western Montana." Conference presentation: The National Conference on the Social Norms Model, July 25, 2004.

For further information about this project, contact:

H. Wesley Perkins, Ph.D., Professor of Sociology, Department of Anthropology and Sociology, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Geneva, New York 14456

Jeff Linkenbach, Ed.D., Director of the Montana Social Norms Project and Assistant Research Professor, Department of Health and Human Development, P.O. Box 170520, Montana State University, Bozeman, Montana 59717

**Portions of the information presented on this page were originally prepared by Michael Haines and Richard Rice and are printed here with their permission.