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FactCheck: Did a drink-driving campaign in 1972 really say the FIFTH pint was the one too many?

No. Of course not.

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AN GARDA SÍOCHÁNA launched its annual Christmas road safety campaign today, highlighting the deadly impact of drink driving in the festive season.

As part of the launch, Assistant Commissioner Michael Finn spoke of how attitudes towards drink-driving had moved over the decades from leniency to a complete crackdown.

To illustrate the leniency of the past, he referred to what is cited in literature provided to journalists – including a reporter from TheJournal.ie - at the launch as a road safety campaign from 1972:

raos The '1972 Road Safety Campaign' presented as part of this morning's launch. Source: An Garda Síochána

Former TheJournal.ie FactCheck writer Dan MacGuill was quick to point out that this poster has previously been the subject of contention:

Has An Garda Síochána inadvertently used a joke poster to illustrate what is an otherwise worthwhile message?

CLAIM: That a 1972 drink-driving campaign recommended motorists not to drink more than four pints before getting behind the wheel.

VERDICT: False

THE FACTS: This is the third time this image has been circulated around the web, purportedly a poster from a 1972 drink-driving campaign.

In 2014, the Twitter account @FascinatingPics posted the image as a genuine campaign. The account was gently taken to task by British comedian David Mitchell, who claimed that the poster was in fact a joke from a book he wrote with comedy partner Robert Webb. He was referring to This Mitchell and Webb Book, written in 2009 as a tie-in to a TV series. FascinatingPics has since deleted that tweet.

The following year, May 2015, the image again popped up and went viral – this time via the r/Ireland channel on Reddit. Again, it was countered by commenters who noted that Mitchell had debunked it as a joke six months previously.

At that time, US-based factchecking website Snopes decided to point out the dubious origins of the ‘ad’. As well as spotlighting the David Mitchell claim, it also debunked the possibility that it was ever an Irish campaign, noting that the copyright credit on the poster reads, ‘HMG Health Commission’, referring to Her Majesty’s Government.

The poster was again used in today’s launch of the Christmas Campaign 2017, headlined in the Assistant Commissioner’s presentation as ’1972 Road Safety Campaign’. Visible in the credit for the poster is the site AhJaysus.com.

TheJournal.ie FactCheck asked An Garda Síochána for comment on the use of the poster and received the following reply:

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 and general road safety. We greatly appreciate your continued support of this very important campaign.

David Mitchell once more took to Twitter today to underline his assertion that the image is from the comedy book he co-wrote in 2009. He also tweeted astonishment that the image was now being used by “the police”, asking “Or is that also a joke?”

A number of Twitter users also pointed out that most cars in 1972 would not have had five forward gears and that fifth would in fact be the reverse gear.

While the poster is fake, is there any chance that the campaign might have been real?

As Snopes pointed out two years ago, the poster is clearly not intended to portray an Irish drink-driving campaign (the HMG attribution puts paid to that). And, to be fair to Assistant Commissioner Finn, he did not categorically state that it was a campaign from Ireland, just that it was a campaign from 1972.

In fact, new drink-driving laws and the use of the breathalyser test for motorists were introduced in Ireland at midnight on 2 November 1969. The new alcohol limit was set then at 125mgs per 100mls of blood.

According to this archive report from RTÉ, the-then State pathologist Dr Maurice Hickey estimated an 11-stone man would be over the limit after two and three-quarter pints or four small whiskeys. “That is if he drank them quickly and of course, a fat man could probably drink a lot more,” says the reporter Eddie Barrett in that clip.

The limit in the UK at the time was even lower at 80mgs per 100mls of blood, so the four-pint safety cut-off as claimed in the ’1972′ poster would have been illegal.

Verdict: False. The poster is NOT of a 1972 drink-driving campaign either in Ireland or the UK – nor does it represent the actual legal blood alcohol limit of the time. However, it is true that the drink-drive limit was indeed leniently high by contrast with our current legislation.

TheJournal.ie’s FactCheck is a signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles. You can read it here. For information on how FactCheck works, what the verdicts mean, and how you can take part, check out our Reader’s Guide here. You can read about the team of editors and reporters who work on the factchecks here

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