March 2000

Grant Results


In 1998–1999, the National Commission Against Drunk Driving developed a message aimed at teenagers for a pilot public education campaign about the "zero tolerance" law in Texas, which makes it illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to drive with a measurable amount of alcohol in his or her system.

During the mid- to late-1990s, states across the country adopted zero tolerance laws in response to an increase in alcohol-related traffic fatalities involving teenagers; the specific penalties vary from state to state.

Key Results
Under subcontracts from the commission, Scholastic and Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide conducted four focus groups in Dallas to identify and test various zero tolerance messages on teenagers, parents, and educators.

  • Of the slogans and graphics tested, participants preferred the phrase "Zero Tolerance Means Zero Chances," stated in bold block letters with an image of a skidding car imposed on it.
  • The slogan and logo were distributed to local print and broadcast media, peer-to-peer student counselors, high school newspaper editors, community advocates, and selected law enforcement professionals.
  • A tool kit using the logo and a modified version of the slogan ("Zero Tolerance Means Zero Tragedies") was distributed to nearly 1,000 driver's education programs throughout Texas.
  • Pre- and post-campaign polls conducted by Common Knowledge under a subcontract indicated an increased awareness and understanding of the zero tolerance law among Dallas-area teenagers.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) supported this project with a $949,636 grant.

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During the mid- to late-1990s, states across the country adopted "zero tolerance" laws in response to an increase in alcohol-related traffic fatalities involving teenagers.

Although the specific penalties vary from state to state, zero tolerance laws make it illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to drive with a measurable amount of alcohol in his or her system. In most states, violators face a minimum 60-day driver's license suspension, 20 to 60 hours of community service, and fines of up to $2,000.

To increase awareness of zero tolerance laws among teenagers, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) contracted with Scholastic, Inc., a for-profit publisher of classroom magazines and children's books, to develop a pilot public education campaign. In early 1997, Scholastic formed the Stop Teen Alcohol and Drugged Driving (STANDD) Coalition, which included the National Commission Against Drunk Driving (NCADD), Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), the federal Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, and NHTSA.

Together, they launched the "Campaign to Reduce Teen Impaired Driving." As the campaign's first step, Scholastic hired Sharyn Sutton, PhD, president of Sutton Social Marketing, to review existing zero tolerance communications materials and to research the effectiveness of impaired-driving campaigns nationwide.

Scholastic approached RWJF in the summer of 1997 to determine whether the Foundation had any interest in joining NHTSA in funding the campaign. Because RWJF already supported two national programs aimed at reducing underage drinking, staff felt that any additional efforts in this area would need to be narrowly targeted and complement the work currently undertaken by the Foundation's grantees working on substance abuse issues.

For that reason, the Foundation declined to participate in or sponsor the actual campaign, but agreed to fund a discrete part of the message development process by providing a grant to NCADD to identify and test various zero tolerance messages. (NCADD, created in 1984 as successor to Ronald Reagan's Presidential Commission on Drunk Driving, is a non-profit organization working to reduce alcohol impaired driving.)

NHTSA had selected Texas to be the pilot state for the campaign, based on the state's comparatively high incidence of youth driving fatalities that involved alcohol, so all message development and testing activities were conducted in Dallas.

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To identify and refine zero tolerance messages and test their effectiveness with teenagers, NCADD hired Scholastic and Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide (Ogilvy), a leading public relations firm with extensive experience producing national media campaigns, to conduct a series of focus groups.

Ogilvy and Scholastic first reviewed the information gathered by Sutton Social Marketing to:

  1. Select the most effective messages available to date.
  2. Create new messages to emphasize points they believed had not been addressed sufficiently.
  3. Package the messages in a variety of different slogans and graphics.

Ogilvy and Scholastic narrowed the potential messages down to ten, and in February 1998, tested the messages, slogans, and graphics at four two-hour focus groups in Dallas. All four groups consisted of teenagers who were preparing to obtain a driver's license or who had obtained a license within the past year; parents of driving-aged teenagers; and educators of driving-aged teenagers (such as teachers, driver's education instructors, and school security officers).

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  • The adults tended to prefer the messages with serious overtones. Adults favored messages that elicited feelings of permanence and the consequences associated with drinking and driving. Conversely, teenagers preferred messages that concentrated less on consequences and more on simple awareness and taking responsibility for their actions.
  • Teenagers and educators most preferred the message: "Educators are in a position to challenge teenagers to make good choices, such as not drinking and driving." This was attributed to the fact that teenagers respect certain teachers and understand that many teachers are sincerely concerned about their well-being. In addition, teachers and other educators are in the presence of teenagers more often than teenagers' own parents.
  • Parents most preferred the message: "Underage drinking is illegal and will not be tolerated by parents or communities." Parents appeared to sound more forceful in this regard, yet at the same time they were often perceived as being too lenient on their own children. They also were most often blamed for teenaged drivers who get into trouble.
  • Parents, educators, and teenagers who are currently driving most perferred the message: "Zero Tolerance Means Zero Chances." Among teenagers not yet driving, "Drive Dry, Not High" was considered to be the most effective slogan, although "Zero Tolerance Means Zero Chances" finished at a close second.
  • The majority of teenagers favored a logo of a skidding car with the slogan in bold block letters. No single color scheme stood out as most forceful. The group of non-driving teenage preferred bright, easy-to-see colors, while there was some agreement between parents and driving teenagers that a black and white scheme was preferable.
  • All groups were skeptical of the enforcement of zero tolerance laws. Questions included: How will they catch the teenagers who are drinking and driving unless they have an accident or drive erratically? How will they determine alcohol levels when some legal products contain alcohol as an ingredient, such as breath sprays? How can they be assured that the law will be administered and enforced fairly, without racial or socioeconomic biases?
  • Many participants questioned the fairness of a harsh punishment for first time zero tolerance offenders. They felt everyone deserves a second chance.
  • Adults felt that teenagers will still drive even if their licenses have been suspended. They expressed a need for stronger deterrents such as community service assignments or substance abuse programs.
  • There was a major misconception among many teenagers regarding the ability of alcohol to impair driving performance. Many felt that a drink or two would have no impact on their ability to drive safely. Some also thought that a minimal amount of alcohol in their system would be undetectable.
  • Teenagers and educators alike agreed that driver's education is beneficial to young drivers. Most teenagers take driver's education courses, mainly because they are a pre-requisite for a license for those under 18 years of age.

The distribution of educational materials with the preferred slogan and logo (detailed below under "Communications") represented the essence of the pilot campaign in Texas. In order to gauge awareness of the zero tolerance law before and after the campaign, the Foundation grant also supported two polls among Dallas-area teenagers: a pre-campaign poll in April 1998 and a post-campaign poll in January 1999.

The polls, conducted by Common Knowledge, Inc., found that awareness of the zero tolerance law among all respondents had risen slightly, from 61 percent in April to 63 percent in January. Licensed drivers and those who had completed a driver's ed course were more likely to profess awareness after the campaign. Those who had not taken driver's ed were less likely to profess awareness after the campaign.

In contrast to the skepticism about enforcement and concerns about fairness that emerged from the teen focus groups, these polls indicated strong support among Dallas teenagers for the zero tolerance law, varying between 92 and 95 percent. Among those who had taken driver's education, there was a 100 percent approval rating for the law.


Ogilvy had anticipated receiving additional federal funding for such elements of the campaign as media relations and law enforcement education. Due to a loss of funding from NHTSA to implement the majority of the media campaign, dissemination to the media was not as broad as initially planned. And when a proposal to the US Department of Justice was not successful, the campaign lacked sufficient funding to include a law enforcement component.


In June 1998, members of the STANDD Coalition shared campaign materials, including the "Zero Tolerance Means Zero Chances" slogan and logo, with staff from MADD's national headquarters and students from its Dallas-area Youth in Action team. The Youth in Action team consists of a group of high school students who conduct outreach to other teenagers on behalf of MADD.

The STANDD Coalition also held a press conference in June 1998 for 200 Texas high school newspaper editors enrolled in a summer workshop at the University of Texas, Austin. The purpose of the event was to educate student journalists about the zero tolerance law in Texas, provide them with campaign materials, and encourage them to write about zero tolerance in their school newspapers. During the following school year, several high school newspapers featured articles about the law and the campaign.

Scholastic also distributed nearly 1,000 presentation tool kits to driver's education programs throughout Texas. The kits contained a resource video, sample presentations, handouts, and locker posters. Although the "Zero Tolerance Means Zero Chances" catch phrase had emerged from the focus groups as the preferred slogan for the campaign, Scholastic used a slightly different version in the kit: "Zero Tolerance Means Zero Tragedies." The Scholastic materials continued to feature the image of a skidding car in the logo.

In October, Rick Delano, a program director at Scholastic, presented the project's findings and distributed campaign materials to over 100 attendees of the 1998 joint annual meeting of Reducing Underage Drinking Through Coalitions and A Matter of Degree: Reducing High-Risk Drinking Among College Students, two RWJF national programs.

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  1. Law enforcement buy-in is crucial to overall credibility with teens and the public. If police are not seen enforcing zero tolerance, then the law is not taken seriously by teens.
  2. Reaching teens through the classroom is essential. While many areas of the country have eliminated driver's education, it remains one of the best ways to affect teen driving habits.
  3. A consistent media and awareness campaign is essential to reinforce zero tolerance messages.
  4. According to the project director at Ogilvy, Dallas has demographics that largely mirror the rest of the nation — which may make it a good place to conduct focus groups for message development. More and more, reactions and discussions seem to be reasonably similar throughout the country. The United States has become so homogeneous (in terms of our attitudes) that broad, multiregional product or message testing is not always necessary.

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In the grant's final narrative report, the project director, a senior vice president at Ogilvy, recommended the development of a prototype marketing program that could be provided to states and regions interested in increasing awareness of their zero tolerance laws. Such a program would include:

  • The Scholastic driver's education kit
  • Materials for local law enforcement officers
  • A "how-to" guide for coordinating and executing the program
  • Training opportunities for judicial and law enforcement professionals.

The project director also recommended that a national media campaign be launched to reinforce these local efforts. As of June 1999, however, NHTSA had not released any plans to broaden the Texas pilot campaign.

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Developing Messages to Reduce Impaired Driving by Teens


The National Commission Against Drunk Driving (Greeley,  CO)

  • Amount: $ 949,636
    Dates: February 1998 to January 1999
    ID#:  032694


Roger Lindberg
(202) 466-7590

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(Current as of date of this report; as provided by grantee organization; not verified by RWJF; items not available from RWJF.)

Audio-Visuals and Computer Software

Tool Kit:
Scholastic, Inc. "Zero Tolerance Presentation Tool Kit." The Tool kit contains a model presentation on Zero Tolerance, a resource video and handout materials. It is used in making presentations to teens, parents, or community leaders. 1,106 kits were produced and 989 were distributed to driver's education programs throughout Texas during 1998.

Survey Instruments

"Zero Tolerance Focus Groups Conducted in Dallas, TX." Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide and RIVA Market Research, fielded February 1998.

"Zero Tolerance Law Awareness Testing." Common Knowledge, Inc., fielded April 1998 and January 1999.

Presentations and Testimony

Roger Lindberg, "Media Messages" to the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration's "Zero Tolerance Teleconference: Underage Drinking and Driving," Kansas City, Mo., San Diego, Calif., and Washington, D.C., April 1998.

Rick Delano and Holly Crider, "Working with the Media: Getting Zero Tolerance in the News," to the Dallas Metroplex Youth in Action monthly meeting, Dallas, Texas, June 21, 1998.

Rick Delano, "Campaign to Reduce Teen Impaired Driving," to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's annual meeting for the programs "Reducing Underage Drinking Through Coalitions" and "A Matter of Degree: Reducing High-Risk Drinking Among College Students," San Juan, P.R., October 28–31, 1998.

News Conferences

News Conference on survey results from Common Knowledge, Inc., poll of teenagers' awareness of zero tolerance law, Austin, Texas, June 22, 1998. Attended by 200 incoming editors of Texas high school newspapers and local print and broadcast media.

Print Coverage

"Here Come the MIPS," Angelton High School Tattler, The Power to Communicate, September 11, 1998.

"Government Officials Enlist Students' Aid to Help Inform," in the Amarillo Globe-Times, June 23, 1998.

"Journalism Students Tout Zero Tolerance," in the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, June 23, 1998.

"State Seeks Help — High School Journalism Students to Spread Word on Zero Tolerance," Amarillo Daily News, June 23, 1998.

"NHTSA and MADD Lead a National Awareness Campaign Designed to Educate Teens about 'Zero Tolerance,'" in NHTSA Now, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, August 31, 1998.

"'Zero Tolerance' Big News for High School Journalists," in Driveline, Texas Department of Transportation, Summer 1998.

"Reality Check," Brownsboro High School, Here's the Real Deal: Zero Tolerance Means Zero Chances, October 21, 1998.

"Drawing the Line on Teen Drinking & Driving," in the Texas Youth Safety Bulletin, Texas Department of Transportation, 1998.

Radio Coverage

Survey results of teenagers' awareness of zero tolerance law, KLBJ-FM, Austin, Texas, June 22, 1998.

Television Coverage

Survey results of teenagers' awareness of zero tolerance law, KVUE-TV (ABC), Austin, Texas, June 22, 1998.

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Report prepared by: Gregory Hall
Reviewed by: Timothy F. Murray
Reviewed by: Janet Heroux
Program Officer: Joan K. Hollendonner