Attila the Pun
Friday, January 14, 2005
Speed kills, and so do adverts

The campaign against car advertisements continues apace in today's Age. Suzy Freeman-Greene goes straight for the emotional opening:

Across my street, now and then, someone tapes a bunch of flowers to a telegraph pole. Sometimes, a handwritten note is taped up too, a message to the dead in marker pen. You see a lot of these shrines on our roads and highways now. They're informal acts of memory, marking sites of trauma.

Before naming the culprits of these tragic occurences:

I was thinking of the shrine near me as I drove along a freeway, glancing at the billboards floating in the sky. "Kick Butt" said an ad for a small car with a pert rear. "Corporate Jet" proclaimed an ad for the Holden HSV.

I too am offended by the "Kick Butt" billboard, but only because the Renault Megane is an ugly piece of crap. It could also be that many accidents are caused by journalists spending time getting angry at billboards, rather than paying attention to the road.

Later, I turned on the TV and caught an ad for the Jeep Renegade. It's a pun on the scene in The Fugitive where the police chief, played by Tommy Lee Jones, instructs his troops to comb the countryside for a dangerous man on the run.

Check out the racing stripe beard on the guy in that ad - it's weird.

In the ad, a cop tells us Tommy Lee-style that he's hunting two renegades. We cut from his face to the offending outlaws - two glossy, black, four-wheel-drives thundering across a beach.

Not many telephone poles on beaches I would have thought.

While governments and police take extraordinary steps to try to reduce our road toll, hoon culture is alive and well in car ads.

What does she mean by "extraordinary"? The drug testing farce? The speed camera farce?

On residential streets we must drive at 50 km/h. On highways we're warned that speed kills. But who can forget the recent television ad featuring a handsome dad, a fast car, and his toddler in the back seat? For a long time the camera dwells on the driver, who glances in the rear view mirror as he accelerates. Then it cuts to the person he's trying to impress - his young son, laughing excitedly in the back.

Who can forget it? Not anti-car types apparently. That ad is the bete noire of all anti-car activists, but here Ms Freeman-Greene doesn't bother to explain what is wrong with the ad. Is there something inherently wrong with accelerating? Or impressing your child? I don't remember the dad dumping the clutch, counter-steering against a wicked burnout, then posting a wicked 1/4 mile time, all to the applause of his mullet wearing child. What behaviour is it that we are supposed to be so offended by?

A recent survey by car insurer AAMI found that 93 per cent of drivers reported experiencing "road rage" or other "antisocial driving behaviour" in the past year. One in 20 said another driver had assaulted them. Seventy-three per cent felt drivers had become more aggressive. Rude gestures, tailgating and verbal abuse were most common.

I consider anti-social driving behaviour to include doing 20 kilometers under the speed limit and indicating two minutes before a corner, all in the name of "being safe" Therefore if I had have been asked that question, I too could have answered yes, but not because of behaviour caused by advert influenced hoons.

Clearly there's a huge difference between a rude gesture and serious physical assault. While road-rage figures may be rubbery, it does seem that drivers are becoming more impatient and aggressive.

Read that as "While road rage figures may be complete BS, it does seem that I am going to make something up to support my contention."

Actually, our roads and freeways operate relatively smoothly because we mostly co-operate: respecting traffic lights and road rules, allowing drivers to change lanes.

My god, even though we are constantly bombarded with adverts encouraging us to drive like idiots? You don't mean to say that we aren't all mindless drones apeing what we see on TV do you?

But while lots of other ads might emphasise a car's safety or prestige or price or engineering or sexiness, this co-operative aspect of the driving experience is clearly not a selling point.

"Drive the new Volvo, it will enhance the co-operatve aspect of the driving experience." Quite catchy I think.

There will always be a car culture associated with speed - car racing is a sport loved by millions. But it's worth noting that while we have eliminated cigarette ads from TV screens due to the harm caused by their products, we'll still show pictures in prime time of a young kid applauding his dad's flashy driving.

We also allow adverts for airlines (they crash you know), fast food (thats next week's op-ed I bet), knives (people just don't stab themselves) and a whole bunch of other products that through accident, misuse or overuse may cause harm. Should we ban ads for all of them? (A scary percentage of people would say yes to that). Her final paragraph could have come straight after the first, being another cynical grab for the emotions, and establishing no link to the intervening paragraphs:

Victoria's road toll for 2004 was 344 deaths - the second-lowest on record. However, 14 more people died last year on the roads than in 2003. Over the recent Christmas holidays, 12 Victorians died in car accidents. The shrines, it seems, will keep coming.

So although drivers are "becoming more impatient and aggressive" and car adverts are continuing to encourage us to drive fast, the road toll in 2003 was the lowest ever recorded, and last year's was the second lowest?

If she wants to claim a link between the two, wouldn't the only logical conclusion be that drivers need to be more aggressive, and adverts even more outlandish and speed obsessed? Either that, or admit that no link exists, and worry about something more important, like fast food advertising...

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