At Christmastime, Free Soft Drinks for Drivers, but Few Takers

Coca-Cola has just launched its annual Designated Driver campaign.

Now in its 12th year, the idea behind it is simple: if you’re driving (and not drinking) while out with your mates around Christmastime, you can get two free soft drinks for your trouble.

The campaign is backed each year by the Gardaí, the Road Safety Authority, and Drinkaware. Pubs and restaurants sign up to participate.

While the publicity that surrounded the campaign in previous years seems to have died down, the promotion is still there for the taking in some places. But fewer venues are offering it.

Supply Without Demand?

Joe Mohan runs the Hut in Phibsboro. He says most of his regulars would walk to and from the pub, few availing of the free soft drink.

“The last few years now, I think it’s just sort of fizzled out, do you know what I mean?” says Mohan. “We did participate in it once or twice down the years but never a whole lot of people took interest in it.”

Mohan says that keeping public transport running later around Christmastime might serve designated drivers just as well.

In the city-centre this year, just over 40 premises, including restaurants and hotels, are offering the free soft drinks. Only around half of those are pubs.

The manager of Doyle’s on College Green, Peggy Vather, says most of their customers wouldn’t drive into town anyway. On Baggot Street, Doheny & Nesbitt Manager Tom Cleary agreed. Public transport means few avail of the promotion.

Dan Ryan, manager of The Long Stone pub on Townsend Street, participates in the promotion each year. “I never find it overly popular,” he says.

Without the promotion signs around the pub, says Ryan, many wouldn’t think of asking for a free soft drink as the designated driver of their group. In order to avail of the offer, you can download a voucher to show the pub staff, or just ask for vouchers when you arrive.

Fewer pubs in the suburbs than in the city centre are listed as participating venues for 2016.

Anthony Malone is the manager of Walshe’s in Stoneybatter. Up to last year, Malone signed up for the promotion, but uptake was slow and this year’s a no-go.

“No one comes in and says, ‘I’m a designated driver.’ Never happened to me once and I’m here nine years,” he says.

Whether demand simply isn’t there, or pubs don’t bother signing up, the promotion still runs throughout the Christmas period each year.

And it’s good that such initiatives keep going, says the Road Safety Authority.

A Commendable Campaign

The RSA says the Designated Driver promotion is “an attractive alternative to drink driving during the holiday season”. It is part of an annual ramping up of efforts to discourage the public from drink driving.

Earlier this year, the RSA released a report that looked at Garda forensic investigation files on 867 fatal crashes between 2008 and 2012, and found that alcohol was a factor in 38 percent of them, contributing to the deaths of 286 people.

Of these 867 crashes, “29% involved at least one driver or motorcyclist with a record of alcohol consumption prior to the collision … [and] A further 9% … were caused by a pedestrian who had consumed alcohol”, the report says.

“This figure is based on both confirmed alcohol results for the driver, motorcyclist, pedestrian or cyclist and/or the attending Garda’s opinion,” the report explains. Of 250 drivers involved in fatal collisions, “a toxicology report was available in the file for 198 (79%)”.

An Gardaí Síochána says the push for road safety around Christmastime is in full swing. Casualty figures show that road deaths have risen by 15 percent nationwide in 2016, according to the Garda press office.

Why wouldn’t you run the Designated Driver campaign? says Tom Gleeson, manager of Gleeson’s pub in Booterstown.

“We have our posters up and have bar staff pinpointing designated drivers, we will offer them a complimentary soft drink,” he says.

“A lot of people aren’t aware of it, but we try to remind people. I think it’s necessary. If the campaign wasn’t there, publicans wouldn’t be giving out free drinks.”

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Cónal Thomas: Cónal Thomas is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer.

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