Has Northern Ireland’s Road Safety Ad Gone Too Far?

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Fresh-faced children, radiant lighting, a mellifluous voice covering an emotive version of Guns N’ Roses’ Sweet Child O’ Mine –  the epitome of youthful innocence, until a glinting blue Vauxhall crashes through the nostalgia with a sickening clatter.

This could easily be a scene from a late-night television drama, but it is in fact the Northern Irish Department of Environment’s answer to the twenty-eight child deaths brought about since 2000 as a result of speeding cars – the equivalent of a class size. The advert was first broadcast in cinemas earlier this month, and made its television debut not long after, having been postponed due to the death of a five-year old boy in a car accident in Belfast, which just serves to underline the need for change.

The advert itself, which depicts a group of children falling victim to a car crash, is hard-hitting, certainly, but is it effective? Will there be a sudden decrease in road traffic accidents following the events of this advertisement? Almost undoubtedly not.

Tugging on the heartstrings of the viewer is all well and good, but who is the real target of such ads? According to statistics from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), more than four hundred people are killed per year in crashes involving drivers aged 17-24 years old – not the age group I’d identify as being particularly parental. Those most affected by the poignant tragedy of this minute-long film are surely going to be mums and dads themselves, who can relate more closely to the emotions the scene evokes.

I realise the set-up is exaggerated, to emphasise the shock factor, but I’d question the necessity of showing the annihilation of two dozen small children on television. Understandably, this was broadcast after the watershed – but only just, at 9:10pm. How many little whippersnappers might have slipped the presumed curfew and been subjected to a potentially-traumatic viewing?

On the other hand, speeding is a real issue. As Road Safety Minister Mark H Durkan points out, “speeding is not cool and it is not glamorous. […] Speeding is shockingly shameful.” Shame is a theme in this particular campaign, which ends with the accusatory slogan “Shame on You” emblazoned across the screen. This really hits home the nature of these incidents – they can be caused by anybody. Most people are guilty of speeding occasionally, and the powerful message this advertisement conveys certainly produces a reaction.

Perhaps the advertising we’ve had thus far has not been sufficient, and this paves the way for a sharper, tougher style of campaign. If it works, then so be it – but I remain sceptical.

Image Rights;  perthhdproductions

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Sian Collins

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Bibliophile, logophile, linguaphile, philomath, big fan of dictionaries and thesauri. French student, more than a little pretentious.

  • Billy Gill

    This advert is horrible and unnecessarily so. I think the set up is fantastic and the message is important but…did we need to actually see those children get crushed. I think last second cut to black or an empty classroom would have been more impactful without the gratuity.
    I mean, really it feels indulgent in the most disgusting way.