Impactful and clever road safety campaigns can live rent free in our minds for years. You don’t have to be from Victoria to know about that state’s ‘If you drink, then drive, you’re a bloody idiot’ campaign.
Advertising agencies employ various tactics to drill safe driving practices into our minds. One tactic is to use hard hitting, emotionally charged images to shock motorists into changing their behaviour with the intent to reduce fatal road accidents.
Road safety campaigns do work (one comprehensive study showed campaigns on average reduce accidents by 9%), although it’s not clear if shock-based campaigns are any more effective, with research suggesting effectiveness is largely due to the individual’s behaviour rather than the shock value of the campaign.
In this article, we look 9 hard hitting road safety campaigns from around the world.
WARNING: This article contains road safety campaigns which include real and staged footage of traffic accidents which may be traumatising to some readers. Viewer discretion advised.
Julie (United Kingdom)
I’ll be fine. I’m only going down to the shops.
This campaign addresses this false sense of security and highlights that we should wear our seatbelts to protect not only ourselves, but others. It depicts a mother driving her two school children on a quiet street. She crashes and is killed by the force of her unrestrained son being thrown forward into the back of her seat.
Crashing at 30mph can launch you through the air at up to 60 times your body weight, with devastating results—as you can see in this ad.
Embrace Life (United Kingdom)
Sussex Safer Roads’ 2010 ‘Embrace Life’ campaign was created to counter some of the more graphic advertisements at the time. Rather than focusing on gratuitous blood or violence, it instead aims to tug on the heart strings.
Set to gentle piano music, the ad depicts a father in his loungeroom, seemingly driving an invisible car as he looks across at his daughter wearing angel wings. He looks to be involved in a crash until his family embrace him, saving his life. The message is clear: do it for your family
The lack of dialogue helped the video go viral worldwide, amassing 10 million views in 12 months. It won awards for its impact on promoting road safety.
Richard Didn’t Want to Die (United Kingdom)
“Richard didn't want to die, but he couldn't stop himself.”
The voiceover at the start of this advertisement is said in a precise, soothing tone that’s more befitting of an audiobook or wildlife documentary than the carnage that’s about to be shown.
It’s a sobering message, that serves as a powerful reminder that behind the violence on our roads are lives cut short. It’s arguably powerful than the vision that follows, which warns of the dangers of not wearing a seatbelt through confronting CGI images of internal injuries.
Girlfriend (Victoria, Australia)
The first Transport Accident Commission (TAC) ad to feature the infamous ‘If You Drink, Then Drive, You’re a Bloody Idiot’ line, Greg Harper’s 1989 ad was designed to upset, outrage and appal drink drivers at a time when some people still considered drink driving “as natural as breathing”.
Filmed at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, it features a nurse talking over bloody footage of doctors treating a young woman moaning in pain after a car accident. The driver, her upset and agitated boyfriend, paces around the hospital before he is confronted by the woman’s furious parents.
“They smash up [the] people they're supposed to care about”, the nurse says. “If they survive, they're the ones that have to live with that”.
Pub Loo Shocker (United Kingdom)
You’d sober up quickly if you saw this one at the pub. The #publooshocker campaign showed “unsuspecting” drinkers (actors, thankfully…) in a pub bathroom forced to come face-to-face with a bloody head smashing through the mirror to the sound of loud car crash sounds.
It’s violent and shocking, aimed at making young men think twice about drinking before driving. Given that drink driving accounts for more than a fifth of Queensland road fatalities, maybe this one needs to make a U-turn onto our screens.
“Do as I say, not as I do” is a phrase parents have used for generations, but one which underestimates the impact of children observing our behaviours. Driving is no exception.
The campaign shows a young boy pretending to drive a car with puppet strings. He looks down at an imaginary phone, then mouths as if he’s angrily yelling at another motorist. The camera swings around and we see that the boy is simply copying his father.
Our kids learn about driving not just from lessons or what we tell them, but also from watching how we drive. Given that young people (aged 17 to 25) are over-represented in road fatalities, it’s a lesson we should all take on board.
Mistakes (New Zealand)
Our friends across the ditch created this amazing ad, which shows how even small ‘mistakes’ can have fatal consequences. It shows a driver pulling out in front of a speeding car at a T-intersection. Before the impact, time freezes, and both drivers step out of their cars.
“It was a simple mistake” says the driver who pulled out. The speeding driver realises that he should have been driving slower.
"Please, I’ve got my boy in the back", pleads the first driver.
"I was going too fast. I'm sorry", responds the other.
They get back into the car and buckle up. The father turns around and looks back at his son. Time restarts. The speeding car slams into the side of the other vehicle as the ad fades to black.
Mess (Northern Ireland)
There’s shocking road campaigns and then there’s ‘Mess’, an anti-speeding ad so violent it wouldn’t be out of place in a Final Destination movie. It charts a course from the graphic death of a pedestrian through to grieving parents at the morgue and the driver in the courtroom (“It is quite clear you were driving too fast to cope with the unexpected” barks the judge).
While the anti-speeding message is an admirable one (speeding is responsible for 1 in 4 deaths on Queensland roads), in this case the ad is so shocking that it’s arguably traumatising to viewers. WARNING: Viewer discretion recommended. Highly confronting and traumatic.
Sweet Child O’ Mine (Northern Ireland)
Another one out of Northern Ireland, this anti-speeding ad shows a group of young school children out on an excursion as an acoustic version of ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ plays in the background.
At the same time, a driver running late grabs his keys and rushes out to his car before speeding off. Moments later he loses control and crashes down an embankment, hitting and kills all 28 children.
The voiceover explains: “Since 2000, speeding has killed a classroom of our children. Shame on you”
Those words hit harder than any footage ever could.