December 31, 2009 | 1
In the days leading up to New Year’s Eve, people in Rome, Georgia, outside Atlanta, could see an unusual type of campaign to discourage drunk driving. TV stations and newspapers are announcing that, between 9 A.M. on December 28 and noon on December 31, the local McGuire, Jennings and Miller funeral homes will sign a contract with anyone who plans to drink or use drugs and drive on New Year’s Eve. The contract states that, if the person dies in a car accident on the 31st, he or she will get a free funeral.
However, the contract is not the point of the "Operation Stop and Think" campaign, says Barry Miller, co-owner of the funeral homes. Miller, who started the program after losing a family member in a drunk driving accident, says, "This is just a scare tactic."
For the past ten years, the funeral home owners have been sending a press release about the contract to some 100 local media outlets and, as Miller says, the owners’ reason for doing it: "So other families don’t have to go through what we went through." Each year, they restrict their "offer" to the night of New Year’s Eve.
In the ten-year history of "Operation Stop and Think," no one has signed the contract. No one has even expressed interest in signing the contract. But the owners have still received feedback about the program in the form of thank-you letters from people of all ages. Miller says that people have even told the owners that the program inspired them to go to Alcoholics Anonymous. Any complaints about the program have been because people misunderstood the funeral home’s true intentions, he adds.
Even though the owners don’t anticipate anyone coming in for the contract, they do have one ready just in case. To sign it, the potential drunk driver must be from the Rome area and, of course, he or she must be 21 and have a valid driver’s license. Miller points out that the funeral home owners would pass along to the police the driver’s license information of people who say they plan to drink and drive on New Year’s Eve. In addition, Miller says that the contractee must bring along his or her next of kin as well as write letters to his or her possible survivors explaining the decision.
The funeral homes would cover the cost of the grave, casket, limousine and preparation of the remains for the contractee, but not for anyone else killed in the accident.
Although the contract’s fine print is not part of the campaign, Miller hopes that the association between drunk driving and a funeral will get the attention of people that might not have been fazed by the myriad other drunk driving ads that appear before New Year’s Eve. "You have to have several [approaches] to reach everyone," he says.