Reaching the drinking driver with tough humor

James Schaefer had a dilemma. He had been asked to design a program to discourage drunken driving for Grand Rapids, Minn. But community leaders had a unique stipulation: Create a positive image that makes abstention attractive. Don't just tell people not to drink.

Mr. Schaefer had a brainstorm. He dreamed up a bumper sticker: ''I love (heart symbol) sober drivers.'' He gave it to the local chapter of MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) to sell at the county fair.

One year later, sales have gone into the thousands, MADD's national organization has requested its use, and Schaefer recently was given a national marketing award for the design.

The bumper sticker is one example of Schaefer's creativity. As head of the Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Programming (AODAP) office at the University of Minnesota, he specializes in devising other innovative ways to change people's drinking habits and cut alcohol use in Minnesota.

A part of the university and funded by the state Legislature ($400,000 last year), AODAP has only three full-time staff members. But they accomplish a lot. Besides community action projects, AODAP coordinates educational programs on the university's seven campuses, consults other community organizations, and sponsors research. Among AODAP's activities:

* A survey of 1,500 local bars to determine what type of environment - lighting, music - encourages excessive drinking.

* A taste test of more than 150 non-alcoholic drinks from around the world. ''We've had the feeling that having non-alcoholic drinks other than coffee and pop is a very positive step that restaurants and bars should have available,'' says Schaefer.

For the past three years, AODAP has been running a program called CAPP (Chemical Abuse Prevention through Peers) at the University of Minnesota's St. Paul campus. Of an estimated 10,000 students who have participated, 36 percent report they've cut their alcohol use, according to project director Sue Stanek.

''The program has an incredibly good reputation,'' says Nancy Lucas, one of 12 student leaders trained to lead workshops and other CAPP activies. She explains that the workshops try to make alcohol-abuse awareness fun through skits, role-playing, and games. In one, students create their own non-alcoholic drinks.

The Grand Rapids drinking and driving project is another AODAP success story. According to Suzanne Nelson, executive director of the Northern Minnesota Citizens League, during last Christmas season there was not a single drunken driving injury, fatality, or accident in Grand Rapids. The project began little more than a year ago when The Blandon Foundation, a local donor organization, gave $23,000 to AODAP.

Schaefer took a different approach. He and his staff identified and interviewed 60 ''movers and shakers in the community - people who got things done - whether they were mechanics, service club leaders, or elected officials.'' AODAP asked them to define the alcohol problem and propose solutions.

AODAP decided it needed ''to create a mosaic of social action,'' says Schaefer, ''based on small projects.''

The first was the bumper sticker. Another was the creation of a local committee to report drunken drivers to authorities.

When community leaders suggested putting up slogans on billboards, Schaefer's took the idea further. Why not, he thought, reinstitute the classic ''Burma Shave'' billboards (a series of four signs with advertising jingles that dotted American roadsides from the '30s to '50s)?

Schaefer contacted the company's founders and learned that of the 650 original jingles, 12 dealt with drinking and driving. ''I was opening up the book and suddenly there was: 'It's best for one/ who hits the bottle/ to let another/ use the throttle.' ''

Schaefer enlisted the help of service clubs in buying and painting signs, and then held a jingle contest in the high school. The winner and four of the original jingles were put up on signs around town last winter.

The program has galvanized the entire town, says Kathryn Jensen, grant adminstrator for the Blandon Founation. ''People are thinking twice about drinking and driving.''

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