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August 2017

Alberta Transportation runs campaign about the dangers of drug-impaired driving

As more and more jurisdictions make the move toward legalizing marijuana, law enforcement and motor vehicle departments alike are working to spread awareness about driving under the influence. In December 2016, Alberta Transportation launched a four-week campaign called “Spot the Difference” to provide both awareness and resources to the public about drug- versus alcohol-impaired driving.

“We hadn’t formally talked about drug-impaired driving in such a specific way before,” says Wendy Doyle, executive director of the Office of Traffic Safety at Alberta Transportation. “And in hearing the concerns from young people about not knowing the consequences of drug-impaired driving and all of the myths surrounding it, such as that police don’t have the ability to detect if you are high or that you are a safer driver while high on cannabis, we wanted to go back to the basics and explain that there really is no difference between alcohol impairment and drug impairment.”

The campaign comprised paid online advertisements that ran on Facebook, Twitter and various websites, inviting viewers to “spot the difference” between someone driving while under the influence of alcohol versus drugs. The ads then informed viewers that there is no difference, and brought them to the Alberta Office of Traffic Safety’s website, saferoads.com, to access research and other information if clicked. Overall, the campaign received 16,567,452 impressions and achieved 64,549 clicks, as well as thousands of likes, comments and shares on the social media platforms.

“It was mostly targeted to young drivers—the 16­–24 age group—but we didn’t want to exclude parents and influencers who also need to know the information so they can give advice to their kids, siblings, nieces or nephews,” says Doyle. “When we looked at the numbers, the impressions and who was actually accessing the information, it goes to show that young people have a craving for the facts, whereas older people want to know about the consequences. So I think the campaign was successful for various reasons.”

One challenge Alberta Transportation faced during the campaign was providing research that was well-balanced and sourced to meet the needs of very opposite opinions on the nature of marijuana.

“People will look for research that supports their opinion on something, and cannabis is very polarizing,” explains Doyle. “People are either pro-recreational use of drugs or they’re not—there are a limited number of people who are in the mid-range and could be influenced either way. The people who are quite entrenched in their beliefs that [marijuana is] safe, natural and doesn’t impair you are hardest to convince. But really it was just to start the conversation, and I think that’s what drew people in.”

For other jurisdictions that want to run a similar campaign, Doyle’s advice is twofold: know your target audience, so you’re reaching the right people with the right message, and don’t be afraid to tweak or add information throughout the process. “It’s important to be nimble once you start getting feedback on the campaign,” she says.