Don’t Drive High Says The Ad Council, NHTSA and Madwell

By Kyle O'Brien 

Driving high is bad, mmkay. That’s the general message from the Ad Council, independent creative agency Madwell and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in a set of new PSAs that aim to get cannabis users to think twice before getting behind the wheel and driving while high.

The work is part of NHTSA and The Ad Council’s Drug-Impaired Driving Prevention campaign, which launched in spring 2019 to address the safety issue and is growing in importance as more states legalize the sale and usage of cannabis.


Research cited by the NHTSA and Ad Council indicates that young men do not believe consuming cannabis has an effect on their driving, so the challenge for the campaign is to create doubt to that claim.

“Our strategy focused on solving a timeless paradox,” Amber Hahn, Madwell’s svp, head of integrated strategy said in a statement. “We know young men are resistant to messages from enforcers and experts, particularly around topics like marijuana use. The best way to begin to change attitudes and behavior on this issue is to frame it up through the lens of their personal experience, as if it was coming from a peer.”

In a 30-second “Not Camping Day” spot, four friends smoke cannabis while packing for a camping trip, but realize they can’t leave when no one gets behind the wheel to drive because everyone is high. They make the best of the situation by camping on the front lawn instead.

A 15-second spot, “I’m in an Ad,” features a young man in a smoky house party breaking character to remind the audience not to drive if they’re high. As the lights go up, the smoke-filled room is revealed to actually be a studio set.

Each ad ends with the tagline, “If you feel different, you drive different,” and a reminder that driving while high is illegal everywhere, including in states where cannabis consumption is legal.

The partners were determined to handle the topic sensitively considering the history of how scare tactics have been used unsuccessfully to address drug use in America. Madwell’s work focuses instead on the straightforward traffic safety message: if you’re high, just don’t drive.

The campaign will cover TV and digital video, radio, OOH, digital banner and print creative. The creative will be distributed nationally via The Ad Council’s donated media model.