How Hollywood and Harvard Powered the Designated Driver Program

“Gangnam Style” may be the most viral YouTube video of all time, but a pre-Internet viral media campaign started at Harvard has it beat hands down in the social good department (and maybe in terms of virality, too).

You know it as the designated driver campaign. And in the 2 decades since it kicked off, it’s saved thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of lives.

Here’s how it came to be.

The Harvard Alcohol Project changed nights on the town forever

Inspired by a similar program initiated in the Scandinavian nations during the 1920s (or the mid-1980s, depending on your source), the Harvard Alcohol Project, led by associate dean Jay Winsten, initiated a social marketing campaign with the aid of the media and communications industries.

What truly set the campaign apart was the way it sought to foster awareness of the concept. Instead of relying solely on public service announcements (PSAs) — of which there were many successful manifestations, including the Ad Council’s “Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive Drunk” slogan — Winsten and company urged major Hollywood studios, as well as television networks ABC, CBS, and NBC, to incorporate the “designated driver” into their scripts.


Just one of the many memorable PSAs that helped propel the Designated Driver program.

The designated driver becomes reality … through TV and movies

Soon, hugely successful shows like Cheers, The Cosby Show, and many more were incorporating snippets of dialogue, sub-plots, scenes, and jokes referencing the “designated driver.” In fact, within the first 4 years after the campaign’s 1988 launch, over 160 prime-time shows incorporated references to the idea.

This was the first time that the big 3 TV networks ran simultaneous campaigns with the same message. And according to industry estimates, the Project received over $100 million of network airtime annually, despite having a real budget under $300,000.

After TV and movie studios picked up the concept, it wasn’t long before everybody from U.S. presidents to professional sports leagues jumped on it too. By 1991, just 3 years after the campaign kicked off, the term “designated driver” became a social reality as an entry in the Random House Webster’s College Dictionary.

Why the designated driver campaign worked

The strength of the designated driver idea lies in a simple reality of TV consumption: people don’t like watching commercials. And when we do watch them, we tend to associate commercials with attempts to sell us something — even when it’s simply a public service announcement.

On the other hand, the characters in TV shows can be admirable, inspiring, or just simply relevant, resonating with our own personal sense of humor, fears, and aspirations. So when they start talking about a concept like “designated driving,” it seems less like an idea we’re being asked to adopt and more like an existing social reality.

In other words, it takes the persuasion out of the equation. Viewers don’t have to be convinced to accept the concept or champion the cause because the fictional worlds of movies and TV shows have already made it a “reality.”

Designated driving leads to fewer alcohol-related fatalities

Some of the more skeptical among you might be thinking, “Okay, so the social marketing campaign worked. But how effective is the concept itself in curbing drunk driving?”

The fact is the designated driver program has had seriously positive effects on the number of those killed due to drunk driving. When the campaign began in late 1988, 23,626 people a year died in alcohol-related crashes. By 1992, annual fatalities dropped to 17,858 — a decrease of 24 percent!

Esurance is doing its part … and you can too

We’re also doing our part to encourage designated driving during the holiday season (when the wine, nog, and toddies tend to be flowing), and we’re asking for your help. Head over to our Facebook page to thank the designated drivers who’ve made your nights on the town safe and sane, or ask a friend to tackle the task this year.

Closing the Gender Gap: Women Drivers Now Outnumber Men

Ladies, it may not be Women’s History Month, but it’s time to celebrate: for the first moment in history, more women have drivers licenses than men!

The University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) recently examined gender trends in driver licensing over a 15-year span and found that women have not only closed the gender gap, we’ve also surpassed men in the licensing department.

Sure, this may not seem like a big achievement. But when we consider the fact that women were thought to be too delicate to drive 100 years ago, we can really see how far we’ve come.

The history of women drivers

As with any pivotal point in history, this development didn’t happen overnight. Rather, we owe it to those fearless female pioneers who led the charge. Here’s a look at some historical highlights.

1899: First licensed woman driver

During the Victorian era, a woman’s domain was thought to be the home. And driving, with its accompanying idea of masculine mobility, was thought unfeminine. Still, it didn’t stop Mrs. John Howell Phillips of Chicago, Illinois, from getting her drivers license. Her car of choice? A tri-motor, complete with a long steering handle, capable of hitting a whopping 18 mph.

1910: Women are the 5 percent (of drivers)

In 1910, women couldn’t vote, but we did have the right to drive. So hats off to that 5 percent of bold women for taking the wheel and hitting the dusty roads.

1914: Women join the war effort by driving for the Red Cross

With so many men fighting on the front during WWI, women (like modernist writer Gertrude Stein) were recruited to drive for the French and British Red Cross.

1960: 34 million drivers strong

Although there were more women drivers than ever in the 1960s, men still made up 61 percent of the driving population.

2000: Almost equal

A lot of things can change in 40 years. By Y2K, ladies made up 49.8 percent of drivers (about 94.8 million).

Today: Women drivers outnumber men

Recent stats reveal there are now 105.7 million women drivers. Men, on the other hand, have fallen behind, making up 104.3 million drivers.

According to UMTRI, the number of male drivers ages 25 to 29 has declined by 10.6 percent over the past 15 years, whereas the number of female drivers in the same age group only declined by 4.7 percent. And, since older women are keeping their licenses longer, you can see why women are winning this battle of the sexes.

What’s propelling the trend?

Researchers posit a few possible explanations:

  • Rising Internet usage reduces the need for in-person interaction, especially in young teen males
  • A sluggish economy means that fewer people have to commute to work
  • The cost of car ownership — the high cost of gas, maintenance, and insurance for drivers under 25 can add up in a hurry, making driving less attractive

Whatever the reason, if this trend continues, the gap could widen and lead to safer roads (women are safer drivers statistically), as well as smaller, more fuel-efficient cars (according to researchers, we also tend to be more practical when it comes to choosing our wheels). And that, in any book, is a good thing.

Related link

Are women more prone to road rage?



Road Trips: the Series

From road trip must-haves to virtual road trip routes, Esurance has photos, stories, and tips to make your next adventure even more memorable.

Road Trip USA: The 8 Most Unusual Roadside Attractions
If you like to take an off-the-beaten-path approach to road trips, you’ll love our guide to some of the zaniest roadside attractions in the U.S.

Diamonds, Mudbugs, Flying Pigs: Esurance Is Now in Arkansas
To celebrate our arrival in Arkansas, we used the Roadtrippers app to plan a virtual road trip through the state.

Go West on the Oregon Trail: A Game-Style Guide to Oregon Road Trips
We take the classic video game, Oregon Trail, and turn it into a real-life road trip adventure.

Esurance Now Offers Car Insurance in Kansas (and Things to Do in Kansas Too)
For our launch in Kansas, we asked our associates for some pointers on the must-see destinations in the Sunflower State.

Only the Cows Know What’s Really Going On (and Other Road Trip Lessons)
One Esurance writer chronicles his journey to the West Coast and realizes the road (and a 15-year-old car) isn’t always so friendly.

Greetings from Esurance: Mud Creek Hogan Trading Post
Just a man and his car (who happens to be named Silvia) on the road in Colorado.

Greetings from Esurance: Cape Henry, Virginia
Picturesque lighthouses and magnificent sunsets highlight this Esurance associate’s road trip.

Greetings from Esurance: Highway 1, California
Esurance associates have taken some pretty remarkable road trips. Check out this one from beautiful Highway 1 in California.

5 Best Road Trip Reads of All Time
When you’re not logging hours behind the wheel, enjoy these classic reads about some epic journeys.

Summer Road Trips: 3 Tips for Getting Better Gas Mileage
No matter the season, we’ve got pointers for getting the most out of your gas tank on your next road trip.

The Esurance Guide to Road Tripping
From plotting your route to picking your passengers, we’ve got tips to make your next road trip fun and fuel efficient.

Road-Trip Recipe: Cook Up Your Next Ground-Bound Adventure
Find out what ingredients you need to make your road trips perfect.

Insuring Famous Sleighs — Which Drivers Are on the Naughty List?

There’s just something about the holiday season that makes us want to believe reindeer really know how to fly. But not all sleighs (or sleigh drivers) are created equal. So we thought we’d take a look at the most insurable and uninsurable of the bunch.

Santa Claus

Of course, we’ll start with the Big Guy himself: Jolly Old St. Nick. When Santa got his Esurance quote last year, he fudged the numbers a little (and made it onto his own Naughty List for the first time in history). But we’re willing to forgive him if he comes clean this year.

The “nice”: Santa did have a couple of minor comprehensive claims this year, but they were weather-related (things can get pretty dicey in the North Pole). And that collision with Blitzen turned out to be all B’s fault. So overall, we’re looking at a pretty clean record.

The “naughty”: Though Santa’s driving record isn’t too bad, his exorbitant annual mileage (24,906 miles a year) does put him at a higher risk of accident. Plus, he drives his sleigh while hopped up on cookies — so speeding could definitely be an issue.

The verdict: Nice. With 9 reindeer co-pilots to keep him on course and a sprinkling of merry magic to prevent accidents, our insurance experts deem Santa a pretty low risk to insure.

The Grinch

You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch. But does that mean you’re a bad driver too? Let’s look at the facts.

The “nice”: If his reaction to the festivities in Whoville is any indication, the Grinch does not like loud music. Since he won’t be blasting Christmas carols or Top 40 hits in the sleigh, we can give him a point for avoiding distracted driving.

The “naughty”: While music might not distract our mischievous friend, his singular focus on destroying Christmas could take away from his focus on the road (other distractions include shoes that are too tight and a head that’s not screwed on right). Not to mention, the Grinch lives way up high on Mt. Crumpit, which means he has to contend with mountain roads and icy driving conditions.

The verdict: Naughty. Though the Grinch (SPOILER ALERT) does come around in the end, his pre-existing heart condition could preclude him from being a licensable driver at all. After all, his heart starts 2 sizes too small, which means he may not be getting enough blood to his brain, and then swells 3 sizes in one day (get this guy to a cardiologist, stat).

The White Witch

Best known for her work in The Chronicles of Narnia, the Queen of Narnia (a.k.a. the White Witch) was responsible for bringing perpetual winter to her queendom.

The “nice”: Uhhh …

The “naughty”: Where to start? The witch’s sleigh only works during the winter, a season that just happens to pose a ton of driving hazards. We’re guessing Old Queenie hasn’t brushed up on her winter driving tips lately either. Then there’s the fact that the White Witch isn’t the most popular person in Narnia. When you’re constantly on the lookout for traitors, your distracted driving level goes way up. And turning creatures to stone may be a super cool trick, but it can also lead to accidents when the driver in front of you is suddenly rendered incapable of accelerating due to a lack of working organs. If she rear-ends anyone, it would totally be her fault.

The verdict: Naughty. No contest.

In the interest of not telling fibs (and consequently ending up on the Naughty List), we’ll admit that Esurance doesn’t actually insure sleighs (or sleds or reindeer). But we can help you have a safe holiday season with our winter driving tips (for cars) and salute to designated drivers.

Can Esurance Save Fuel (69,000 Gallons Worth)?

The Ford Fusion Hybrid is cool. I mean, just look at it. It’s sleek, sporty, and (one imagines) fun to drive. It seems like it might have all the modern gadgets and gizmos of a Bond car. And with more curves than Brigitte Bardot, it screams “s-e-x-y” not “m-p-g.” But, as the 2013 Green Car of the Year (according to the Green Car Journal), mpg is exactly why we chose it as our new claims car.

Esurance Ford Fusion Hybrid

Ford Fusion technology

And that’s not all. Bragging rights for this vehicle include a tech package with adaptive cruise control, rear cameras, a lane-keeping system, pull-drift compensation, a blind spot indicator system with cross-traffic alert, and a rear camera (just to name a few highlights).

While the benefits of all this new technology have yet to be tested by our drivers, the benefits of the increased mpg are irrefutable. As you can imagine, our claims team covers a lot of miles each year. In fact, collectively they’ve covered more than 7 million miles since 2008. That’s a lot.

Reducing carbon dioxide emissions

As a company that cares about minimizing our impact on the environment, any step we can take to reduce emissions is a welcome one. We first began implementing our hybrid claims fleet back in 2006 with the Ford Escape. Today, our claims fleet is 100 percent hybrid, which has helped us reduce our driving emissions by up to 90 percent and halve our carbon dioxide emissions. And while this is good, we’re always looking for ways to do better.

Esurance Hybrid Claims Car

The mileage math

The 2013 Ford Fusion is expected to average about 26 mpg. With the new Fusion Hybrid, however, we expect to get roughly 35 mpg — a whopping 9 more miles for every gallon. If we assume that our appraisers will drive another 7 million miles over the next few years, then our fleet could (collectively) save 69,000 gallons of fuel by 2017!

Of course, that’s a lot of savings for us, which in turn can mean more savings for our customers as well (since we can pass the savings along). And better still, it also means some savings for the planet.

So if you happen to see one of our super sexy, max-mpg, Ford Fusion Hybrids buzzing around your neighborhood … give a thumbs-up for helping to save fuel, and a little green, too.

Related links

JD Power reports on the Green Car of the Year Award