A television ad from Northern Ireland warning against reckless driving has gone viral online in recent days, receiving coverage in outlets ranging from AdWeek to the Huffington Post to the Australian website Cars Guide.
The ad, titled “Classroom,” shows an entire class of children on a school trip get crushed by a speeding car, in an effort to communicate the fact Northern Ireland has seen 28 child traffic fatalities – the equivalent of an entire classroom – since 2000.
It has been widely described as one of the “most shocking” ads ever, based on how vividly it portrays the tragedy. Due to its graphic nature the ad has been banned from airing on TV before 9pm.
Still, it has received international attention, with over 2.5 million views on YouTube. Some have criticized it as “too horrific,” but the general consensus is that the Northern Ireland Department of Environment (DOE), which produced the ad, has created a powerful and effective warning.
This is true, but it isn’t exactly new. Ireland and Northern Ireland have an established history of extremely haunting and graphic safe-driving public service announcements (PSAs). The following are just a few.
Warning: these videos contain graphic content and may be distressing to some viewers.
This PSA, from 1995, warns teen drivers against reckless speeding and joyriding.
From 2007, this ad, titled “Mess,” makes “The faster the speed, the bigger the mess” its message.
This horrifying drunk-driving PSA, from 2009, is very similar to the ad currently making waves. “Never, ever drink and drive. Could you live with the shame?” it asks.
And this one, from 2010, shows how not wearing a seat belt is dangerous not only to you but to everyone else in the car.
The big question is, do these ads work?
The short answer is yes. Both Ireland and Northern Ireland have seen a more or less steady decline in fatalities from driving accidents over the last few decades.
In Ireland, from 2005 to 2012, road deaths decreased year after year, with a 162 people killed in 2012 – the lowest number of fatalities since the country began recording road data in 1959. 2013 saw an increase, however, with 190 fatalities.
Northern Ireland has also seen a decline in road deaths since a peak of 372 in 1971. In 2010, the total number of fatalities dropped sharply to 55, falling below 100 for the first time since 1931, when the government began keeping records. They dropped even lower in 2012, to 48, rising again to 57 in 2013.
While there are a number of other factors involved in the decline of road deaths, these disturbing ads have also proven to be effective deterrents against unsafe driving.
The US government is catching on. As part of its efforts to end distracted driving (driving while texting or talking on the phone), which claimed an estimated 3,328 lives across America in 2012 alone, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released an $8.5 million ad campaign in April, titled “U text. U drive. U pay.”
Sources: Road Safety Association of Ireland, PSNI, and NHTSA.