Personnel Profile: Chris Cochran

Chris Cochran is the assistant director of marketing and public affairs at the California Office of Traffic Safety. OTS is joining the California Highway Patrol in their annual December DUI Crackdown period, Dec. 16-Jan. 1, as well as a launching new anti-drunk driving campaign, “RUOK?”

How does the RUOK? campaign work?
Every year around this time in December we have a campaign to try to combat DUIs. This year the theme is RUOK?, with the hook being, if you have to ask someone if they’re okay to drive then the answer very likely is no. We consider it kind of a ridiculous question to ask because obviously that person has been showing some signs of being drunk, or you know that they’ve had a lot to drink already. And just asking the question and getting the “No, I’m ok to drive” type of answer does not absolve any one of their responsibility to make sure their friends or family are not going to drive drunk. It’s not something that you can feel good about if something does happen and you say, “Well, I did ask, and they said they were good to drive.” We’re saying if you have to ask it’s probably not okay and you should do something about it in the beginning. You should either offer to drive, call them a cab, let them use your couch to sleep it off, or keep them there long enough to sober up. Take some action to insure that they’re not going to drive drunk, because just asking the question is not good enough.

And what we’ve done with that idea is taking it to the next level of getting it out there to the public. In this case primarily to the bar-drinking public. So we’ve gotten together with the California Restaurant Association to identify hundreds of bars across the state that are signing on to the effort and will be displaying our posters in their restrooms and on drink coasters in the bars. All of these have the same theme; they have all kinds of stupid questions on them because we think that RUOK? is a ridiculous question. So someone sits down at bar and they’ll have a coaster in front of them that asks, “Did the French Revolution happen anywhere else?” and they turn it over and it says, “That’s just as ridiculous as asking your drunk friend if you’re okay to drive.”

And if they’re looking at a poster in the bathroom there’s one of the new QR codes they can use their smartphone to scan and it takes them directly to our site that lists cab services for them whereever they are.

That’s pretty cool.
We hope so. We’re aiming for the crowd that is most vulnerable, and also most likely, to drive drunk and that is males 18 to 34. So these posters are going up in bathrooms over urinals. For example, another of the questions on these posters is, “Will they deliver pizza to a urinal?” and then it prompts them to take the initiative to help any drunk friends get home, and it has the QR code to scan and find a cab without any further hassle. You don’t even have to ask anybody.

By aiming it at the 18-to 34-year-old male, we can narrow it down somewhat because we don’t have unlimited funds to get every driver out there. So we’re going after the most vulnerable driver and we’re going to the place where a lot of them are drinking, especially during the holiday season. So, this campaign will be running through New Year’s, and then those places that want to continue it, we will keep supplying the coasters and posters they need for that.

What about folks celebrating at home?
We emphasized this more last year, but; plan ahead, designate a sober driver. That’s kind of a year-round thing. There’s three different scenarios. If it’s me, myself, and I’m planning on going out, I should think ahead-of-time how I’m going to get back home and make appropriate plans. Whether that’s designating a sober driver, or knowing I’m going to be calling a cab, or staying at someone’s house. But if I’m out there already and find myself having had too much to drink, then I need to be ready to take action at that time, to either call myself or have someone call me a cab. Have the information in your wallet or in your smartphone.

There’s the drinking buddy: the sober person, who sees what’s going on and should help take the initiative to get their friends, family, co-workers to get a sober driver.
And then there is the party host. By planning ahead there too, you, minimize the chances of someone driving drunk. For instance, having plenty to eat because that slows down alcohol reaction. Having non-alcoholic drinks available so that the people who are drinking can switch back and forth. Maybe they’ll have a drink one hour, a non-alcoholic drink the next, and another drink after, so if they’re there three hours, they’ve had two drinks. That’s not likely to get the average person drunk enough to be an impaired driver. And also planning ahead of time you can be ready with your couch or an extra bedroom, the number for a cab or friend or family member who can come get the person.  Just making sure as a host you are covering all the bases so that there aren’t any tragedies after leaving your party.

Do you feel there are any misconceptions the public still has about drunk driving?
Luckily people are beginning to get it. Our drunk driving statistics, the number of fatalities, has been going down rather dramatically since 2005. If you count 2010, the fatalities from impaired drivers have dropped 39 percent in the last five years. That’s a huge number, it’s a good number. And of course we want it to keep going, but what we think is that people are starting to get the idea. It’s getting through that drunk driving is dangerous, it is illegal, it is now socially unacceptable (which has taken awhile for that to kind of turnaround), and that law enforcement is out there actively looking for folks. So it’s having an effect, all the different things that we do and other organizations like MADD and CHP.

Any plans for the holidays?
It’s going to be a low-key holiday for me, just relatives coming in. We will be imbibing adult beverages and staying home, we won’t even venture out onto the streets at that time. So it’ll be celebratory, but safe for me during this upcoming weekend.

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