A road safety awarenes speeding ad popped up in my Facebook feed today. I’m not usually bothered watching these things because I have a good enough idea about how horrific car crashes can be without being condescended to, but the preview on this one looked interesting so I gave it a play. Here it is:

This is, I reckon, the most interesting approach to an awareness campaign that I’ve seen. The simplicity of two normal looking guys on an average day having this out of body experience where they know they’re about to be involved in a serious accident and there’s nothing either of them can do to stop it really struck a chord with me.

Unlike the majority of speeding ads in this category there’s not really a clear ‘villain’ as such; business-guy was going a bit faster than he should have been (but not outrageously so, his speedo tells us) and father-guy misjudged his exit. While the focus is on the guy who was speeding, he’s not portrayed as a bad or dangerous driver for whom such an incident was an inevitability – he was 10KPH over the speed limit and in this very specific situation that was just enough to make a difference. Dad pleads with him to stop in time (“I’ve got my kid in the back”), but there’s no hysteria here, no screams or tears or ‘money shots’ of his suffering. The encounter plays out in a really understated way, and once the facts of what’s about to happen have been laid out, both men walk back to their cars to let events unfold.

I think part of the reason I found this video so effective was more about what it DIDN’T do than what it did. We’re not presented with an emotional or dramatic musical score or a montage showing how happily the individuals are as they live their lives in the run up to the accident. There’s no blood or gore or slowmo sequences showing skull hitting pavement with emphasis on the THUD. Other than acknowledging that there’s a kid in the car and he’s about to be badly hurt there really isn’t any major attempt to shock or disgust the viewer.

This campaign is called ‘Mistakes’ and it comes from New Zealand’s Transport Agency. Looking through some of their other recent campaigns, they seem to be taking the ‘less is more’ approach as a general rule. Here’s another one of their TV spots, called ‘Numbers’, and while it’s nowhere near as effective as ‘Mistakes’ it still shows that you can make an effective speeding ad without resorting to body parts flying everywhere.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4mXBEQn_XVs

The NZTA have the following to say about their anti-speeding campaign:

In a Safe System no one should pay for a mistake with their life. When we drive, we share the road with others so the speed a person chooses to travel at needs to leave room for any potential error – whether it is theirs or someone else’s. At speed, there is less opportunity for a driver to react to a mistake and recover, and this is the key message for this campaign.

React and Recover. Slow down a little bit and you’re ready for the unexpected. You might be a great driver who has full control, but the next guy you come across might not be and being in the right won’t protect. It’s a simple message, but its simplicity cuts through the mishmash of imagery that tries to score emotional blows that are typical of other speeding ads.

What Do We Do So Differently?

You can probably guess where I’ve been going with this: I’m going to compare NZ’s reasoned approach to what’s shown on our screens in Ireland.

Oh, we love a speeding ad so we do. Growing up watching TV I’ve seen my fair share of Road Safety Authority spots urging us to slow down, stop drinking and generally stop being eejits on the road, and we were shown plenty of them during my Transition Year road safety module.

Here’s my quick and easy checklist for making a speeding ad in Ireland:

  • A Victim. Has to be angelic and completely blameless in the incident
  • A Villain. Must be in a hurry, careless or otherwise solely to blame in some way
  • A Melancholic Score. Acoustic covers work well
  • The Build-Up. Everyone has to be outrageously cheerful and happy in the moments leading to the accident
  • The Money Shot. The gorier/more graphic, the better. Bonus points if it’s totally unexpected and catches the viewer off guard
  • Horrified Bystanders. They’re victims too ya know, they’ll need serious counselling and you can see it written on their faces
  • The Aftermath. Definitive acknowledgement that someone has died. The villain might be apprehended, but nothing can undo the damage they’ve caused
  • The Message. The more on the nose the better. Appeal to people’s sense of shame/guilt over everything. COULD YOU LIVE WITH THE SHAME?

Here are some examples of Irish speeding ads:

This one is about drink driving but it still follows the formula:

And lastly this one, which is so over the top that it was banned:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_YAeONUxdX8

This all sounds very cynical and negative but I really am fed up with how condescending some of these adverts can be. I just don’t think shock tactics work. ‘Mistakes’ is more effective (in my opinion) than anything that’s ever been shown on Irish screens because it understands that the suggestion of implications can be more powerful than right up in your face and rubbing your nose in them. People are generally reasonable; most of us understand that speeding is bad and those who don’t aren’t going to be swayed by a bit of gore and a field of children’s corpses (incidentally, that one was so ridiculous that it was widely ridiculed even outside of Ireland). A fitting comparison here is how the very best horror films instill a general feeling of discomfort that gradually rises into pure terror, rather than relying on jump scares and gore.

I guess what I’m suggesting is that the people making these videos take a step back and really think about what they’re saying to drivers. Don’t shame people into driving better or scare them about things they can’t control. Instead, maybe a better approach would be to highlight how a slight increase in speed affects your vehicle and what a difference slowing down even a little could make?

Related: “I Drive Better When I’m Drunk”