Garda defends use of ‘fake’ poster from 1972 drink driving campaign

Poster appearing to ask drivers to limit drink to four pints ‘highlights changing attitudes’

The Garda has defended the use of a fake anti-drink drive poster allegedly dating from the 1970s which asked motorists not to have a “fifth pint” before driving.

The image which has been circulating on social media for a number of years was used by assistant commissioner Michael Finn at the launch of the annual Christmas Road Safety Campaign, to illustrate how far society has moved from a more lax approach to drinking and driving,more than 40 years ago.

The image is one of a vehicle gearstick and it carries the message “Driving? Don’t have the fifth pint”. It also carries the date 1972.

In assistant commissioner Finn’s presentation on Thursday the image was shown under the heading 1972 Road Safety Campaign and the sobering message was that in 1972 there were 640 people killed on Irish Roads.

Following three decades of anti-drink driving campaigns the number of deaths have fallen by more then two thirds to less than 200, There were 185 deaths in 2016 and the number up to 9am on Friday was 144 deaths this year.

But any number of deaths was too many Mr Finn said in an address which was streamed live on social media from the Garda conference room in Store Street Garda Station. Afterwards Mr Finn recorded a Christmas road safety message for the Garda Facebook page.

Following the launch of the Christmas campaign the use of the “fifth pint” poster started to again go viral. Many commentators of a certain age pointed out that most cars in 1972 did not have a fifth forward gear.

It transpired the poster was the work of British comedian David Mitchell, who said its origins lay in a book he co-wrote with comedian Robert Webb in 2009.

In fact the small print on the poster, illegible in the Road Safety Campaign material read: “HMG Health Commission” an indication that this was never meant to portray an Irish attitude to drink driving.

But the Garda took it all in the force’s stride and issued a statement in which it said: “The slide/poster is one we have used before in presentations and briefings to demonstrate how attitudes of the motoring public and law enforcement agencies has moved on in terms of DUI [driving under the influence] and general road safety”.

The Garda, perhaps judging the attention-grabbing poster had worked regardless of its authenticity, added: “We greatly appreciate your continued support of this very important campaign”.

Driving while impaired in Ireland was an offence stretching back to the arrival of the motorcar. Specific anti-alcohol laws came into force in run up to Christmas 1969, but four pints was never tolerated, according to a Garda source.

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien is an Irish Times journalist

READ MORE