Is This Road Safety Ad Too Disturbing for TV?

A 60-second road safety ad released in Northern Ireland has been banned from the airwaves until after 9 p.m., thanks to some shocking imagery. It's definitely scaring people, but is this ad doing its job?

The PSA, produced by the Northern Ireland's Department of the Environment (DoE) begins with an eerie, slowed-down cover of Guns and Roses’ “Sweet Child O’ Mine” and a series of close-ups of children playing and laughing on a school field trip. It then cuts rapidly to a shot of a young guy grabbing a slice of pizza from the fridge as he rushes out the door, car keys in hand. This does not bode well. At the 40-second mark the ad reaches it’s terrifying climax.

"Since 2000, speeding has killed a classroom of our children," a voiceover intones. "You can never control the consequences if you speed," says a voice-over, as shots of an empty classroom appear on-screen. “Shame on you.”

There's no blood or guts, no mutilation, and no detached body parts. There aren't even any tears. As far as PSAs go, this is pretty tame — it's certainly worlds away from the graphic “Smoking kills” ad that aired in Australia, where a woman with rotting teeth and scarred lips discusses how smoking gave her mouth cancer. Yet it's now only allowed to air on TV after kids are presumably safe in bed.

The Assistant Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland defended the extreme nature of the ad, saying that "the reality is drivers need to be fully aware of the potential consequences of their actions. Too many people in Northern Ireland have lost their lives on our roads, including 28 children since 2000, and the real tragedy is most, if not all fatalities, could have been prevented." Those group most statistically likely to cause speed-related deaths and serious injuries are 17-24 year-old males, the DoE said.As is often the case with shocking PSAs, some members of the public have suggested that the video is so frightening that people won't watch it. With the YouTube view count approaching 1.7 million, it seems that this isn't an accurate assessment. People are certainly watching.However, it's still unclear how effective this attention really is. For one, is this attention directed at the right issue? Is all this fuss causing people to focus on the issue of speeding and driver safety, or on what constitutes appropriate imagery for a PSA? The media coverage has certainly been leaning towards the latter. Furthermore, even if people are made more aware of the effects of dangerous driving, will this alter their behavior? One study by the British Psychological Society found that shocking driver safety ads made people fearful but didn't actually make them more cautious drivers.It seems we'll have to wait for future statistics on driver fatalities to see if such campaigns have an effect. For now, we can only hope the target audience — young men —are watching, taking notes, and keeping an eye on that speedometer.