Shock, horror drives away softly, softly

25th April 2008 at 01:00
Looking up some traffic safety advertisements on YouTube, I was glad to see that I was not the only person who has come to find some of these distasteful
Looking up some traffic safety advertisements on YouTube, I was glad to see that I was not the only person who has come to find some of these distasteful.

"F***ed up British car safety ad" is the apt title given on YouTube for one such seat belt ad where a boy forgets to "belt up" and kills his mother, who crashes the car, by smashing her head in against the steering wheel with his body weight. It kicks off with: "Like most victims, Julie knew her killer". The tone is set for what we witness - not a forgetful son or careless teenager sitting in the back, but a killer. And this is the tone of most of these ads today.

The ads I remember from the 1970s were more about informing the public than chastising or labelling people as potential killers. Drivers were reminded, for example, to wear their seatbelts ("Clunk, click, every trip"), or be watchful for motorcyclists ("Think once, think twice, think bike").

The tone of public information ads is very different today. Not only are they more unpleasant and brutal - indeed, I would argue, sick - they are also more condemnatory, more finger-pointing, outraged and disgusted by our selfish stupidity. Accidents in these horror shows have been transformed into gross acts of negligence.

My attention was drawn to the changing nature of these ads by my son's anxiety when watching the new type of road safety ads. In one of the latest ghoulish episodes, a small girl's body is seen creaking and cracking, the blood runs back into her nose and her broken bones straighten as the tape winds backwards. The message is that if you drive at 40 mph, there is an 80 per cent chance that the child you hit will be killed.

The public spirit of these ads has gone. As, indeed, has the correct focus they used to have - educating children. Rather than encouraging us all how to live together and get along as drivers, motorcyclists and pedestrians, we are being led to understand that, in essence, people are a danger to one another. Instead of the useful campaigns aimed at children, such as the Tufty Club or the Green Cross Code Man, today's road safety experts seem more keen to moralise about killer drivers than to teach the next generation of children how to cross the road.

Stuart Waiton is director of Generation Youth Issues.

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