Perry McCarthy hopes the popularity of cult BBC motoring show Top Gear and his alter ego - The Original Stig - will help to convince anyone thinking of getting behind the wheel after a drink this Christmas and New Year to think again, as he lends his backing and time to the 'Coca-Cola Designated Driver Campaign'.

Celebrating its second year, the initiative rewards drivers who choose not to drink on a night out by giving them a second soft drink for free, provided they buy the first. Through the campaign, Coca-Cola hopes to encourage more people to share safer driving over the festive period.

Some 8,000 bars and clubs across the UK have signed up to the promotion, which runs until 2 January, and ex-F1 ace McCarthy - or The Stig - has been lapping the country and making pit-stops at participating venues nationwide to wave a green flag to rev up support and get the safe driving scheme on the road.

"I think it's a really good idea," he enthused, speaking to Radio. "It's not meant to replace any government initiatives from the 'Think!' campaign or anything like that, but it's just a little reward from Coca-Cola to say 'look, just think about your travel arrangements over the Christmas period, or any period really'.

"Somebody ends up being the designated driver, so if there's a group of mates, one of you is going to stay sober for the night, and if you go into one of the associated bars or restaurants linked into the campaign, then after you've had your first Coca-Cola, you show your car keys and you get another one for nothing. It's just to say 'well done for taking responsibility'. Nobody likes to have a good time more than I do, believe me, so their time will come when somebody else is the designated driver.

"I think the changeable weather conditions like we have now just show up different levels of confidence and experience, and that's with people who are mentally sound and fit - but even in the dry, the same things apply. Coming from the world of motor racing, we know that any kind of impediment to your system such as drugs or alcohol doesn't help you to concentrate and doesn't help you to go quick. You have to be in the best shape possible, and alcohol slows reaction times. We're about preparation as well - physical preparation, mental preparation and also of course our equipment presentation - to make sure we can do the best possible job.

"This is just a way to keep on highlighting that point. People probably already know about it, but it's just to make sure that they're ultra-safe. On the road, there's a responsibility to your passengers and other road users; on the racetrack, there's a responsibility to yourself and to your fellow competitors, but we're generally all going in one direction."

As a man who donned the celebrated black helmet and overalls throughout the first two series' of Top Gear, McCarthy is used to getting recognised - but he admitted that the reception he encountered for his latest endeavour left him somewhat overwhelmed, as he hopes that The Stig's involvement might help to raise the profile a little.

"As The Original Stig, I think it makes a difference," the 48-year-old opined, "because people really like Top Gear, they know who The Stig is and they know that I've got quite a bit of experience in driving, so hopefully if I'm making certain recommendations it might strike home with them and cause them to think 'well, Perry's saying this, so maybe it's not a bad idea to actually follow through'.

"They always seem to have a bit of a laugh with me and I have a laugh with them when I go around promoting anything or giving an after-dinner speech or the like. It's great to see that association with cars and driving and also with the programme, and it's a real compliment that people do end up listening when I'm saying 'look guys, take it easy, think about what you've got to do and if you're all intent on going out and having a drink, find a different way - get a cab, train, bus or whatever. If one of you is going to be driving the others, back off and have fun on a different night.'

"What I've done for this programme attracts a bit more media interest, which allows people to read about it and know that there is this kind of programme out there. It's not a campaign that is going to make everybody safe forever; it's just a small reward from Coca-Cola to say 'listen, think about what you're doing and here's a little gift from us over the Christmas period'. Anything that attracts attention to it for this period and also for the longer-term is most welcome, so go for it, have a fantastic time, drink loads and have a laugh - but don't mix it with driving."

To find out more about the Coca-Cola Designated Driver Campaign, click here


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