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Blog: Do shocking road safety adverts work?

From gruesome crashes to images of twisted bones, many of us will have seen examples of the shock-tactic advertising used by road safety campaigners. But do these adverts work?

"Kill, your speed, not a child" and "It’s 30 for a reason" are just two memorable slogans from road safety adverts of recent years – these two examples focusing on the dangers of speeding.

And lately we’ve seen several particularly terrifying adverts highlighting dangers from failing to wear a seatbelt to drink-driving.

For example, I found this short film by THINK! - launched in June 2013 and filmed in a North London pub - particularly shocking in a horror film jump-out-of your-seat kind of way.

‘Shocking and memorable’

While adverts such as these are undoubtedly alarming, I wonder whether they really help change drivers’ behaviour.

Chris Stillwell, age 28, a motorist from Cardiff, says: "It’s clear the campaign is trying to address the issue of where the problem of drink-driving can start – in the pub.

"And I do find the advert shocking and memorable."

Chris adds: "Although I would never do it, with something as dangerous as drink-driving it is good to remind the public of the repercussions."

But should we need to remind people that it is dangerous to drink and drive? Or carry out other hazardous behaviour such as speeding, for that matter?

If people are stupid enough to do such things, will they really be swayed by a TV advert?

The dangers of level-crossings

While it’s not strictly a road safety advert, this Network Rail "See Track, Think Train" TV advert, launched in October 2013 shows the dangers of getting distracted at a railway crossing in especially heart-in-mouth fashion.

Talking about the latest advert, Network rail spokeswoman Kate Snowden says: "With our safety campaigns we try to think about what will resonate best with viewers.

"In this particular example there is less blame attached to the people featured in the advert than in previous campaigns.

"They are not blatantly flouting the law – unlike, say, drivers in some of our other adverts who ignore lights at a level-crossing.

"They are not criminals, just normal people innocently going about their life."

And personally I find this approach works to great effect as this advert does hit home.

Playing on guilt or shame can be more effective

Chris Boyton is an advertising expert at media agency Publicis in London.

He says: "Shocking advertising can be an extremely effective tool in road safety advertising - they tend to be the ads that cut through and are remembered.

"However, there is a balance to strike between shocking your audience and creating something that overwhelms the viewer to such an extent you fail to register the crux of the message behind the ad.

"The other thing to consider is that shock in advertising does tend to play on only one emotion: fear.

"As powerful as that is, there are a huge range of other feelings that can be as, or arguably even more, powerful.

"People tend to care more about what other people think, so to tapping into guilt, shame or pride can really resonate.

"That could manifest itself in execution as the shame of losing your licence, or the guilt of knowing you've injured someone through careless driving."

What do you think?

Do shocking road safety adverts work?

Or are people simply overwhelmed by gruesome images and fail to take in the message?

We want to hear from you! You can share your views on the message board below.

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Adam Jolley

Adam Jolley

Adam Jolley is a content producer at He joined us in May 2012 from the world of financial services PR. Read more from Adam