Britain's drunk-driving campaign separates throttle from bottle

Fewer British motorists are drinking and driving, thanks in part to a government advertising campaign and the increased popularity of nonalcoholic substitutes for wine and beer in Britain. According to a report released this week by Britain's Department of Transport, fewer motorists are failing roadside tests for alcohol consumption, and the number of accident fatalities involving those over the legal limit of alcohol blood levels fell last year to a low of 23 percent of total accident fatalities.

Britain's highway safety record is among the best in Western Europe. Peter Bottomley, undersecretary of state for roads and traffic, says the government's hard-hitting campaign against drinking and driving has benefited from the new popularity of nonalcoholic drinks among young people. ``If the European Community had the same road safety record as Britain, it would have 40 percent less fatalities,'' Mr. Bottomley says.

The government launched a campaign two years ago which went beyond the message that drivers should stay below the legal limit on alcohol consumption and insisted that drivers simply should not drink. ``We separated the throttle from the bottle,'' Bottomley says. Another part of the message was to encourage ``host responsibility.''

``As a host I should make sure that I have an attractive range of alcohol-free drinks for drivers,'' he says.

Police have increased the number of breath tests for motorists. In one police department in Fife, Scotland, testing increased last year by 250 percent, while the number of positive results decreased by 19 percent.

There are now dozens of brands of nonalcoholic drinks available in Britain, and the sales of these beverages have doubled each year for the past several years, reaching $360 million in 1987, according to government sources. This year British brewers are spending some $27 million to promote these drinks, almost as much as total sales of those beverages two years ago.

Their promotion has given respectability to brand names of alcohol- free drinks without the stigma attached to asking for orange juice or ginger ale.

``If you presented these purely as drinks for drivers they would not succeed nearly to the same extent,'' says Peter Jones of Waldron, Allen, Henry and Thompson, Ltd., a firm specializing in issue-oriented advertising. ``The brewers saw an opportunity to supply people with drinks that are consistent with today's life style and which allowed young people to stay in control.''

Sales of these beverages have exceeded expectations. This year a major British brewer, Bass and Tennent, began marketing a low-alcohol lager. The lager sold four times sales projections in the first six months.

Another and possibly related trend is the rise in the number of people who claim to be teetotalers. According to a poll by Public Attitude Research Surveys, the number of people in Britain who say they do not drink any alcohol rose in 1987 to 16 percent of the adult population. This shows a steady increase which some analysts say is due primarily to health reasons. Women account for two-thirds of the nondrinkers.

The sharpest increase in nondrinkers in the past year was in the 25- to 34-year-old age group. Some observers speculate this is related to the growing popularity and availability of nonalcoholic beverages in bars popular among young adults.

Despite this trend, police throughout Britain have reported increased drunkenness and hooliganism among youth, often by those under the age of 18, the minimum drinking age.

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