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Just the little one today (Image: Tina Tiiller)
Just the little one today (Image: Tina Tiiller)

Pop CultureAugust 25, 2023

New Zealand’s most shocking road safety ads

Just the little one today (Image: Tina Tiiller)
Just the little one today (Image: Tina Tiiller)

How on earth did these end up on our television screens?

New Zealand’s road safety advertising has come a long way. These days we freak out over a driver saying “bumhole” on TV, but in the 1990s and 2000s, our road safety campaigns were far more confronting. In the mid-1990s, Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency (then LTSA) was so determined to lower the road toll that it tried to shock us into driving properly via a series of graphic television ads that captured the gut-wrenching reality of traffic accidents in a variety of grim and distressing ways.

These ads were miniature horror films that imprinted themselves on our young brains. Initially focusing on drink-driving and speeding, the ads interrupted our fun primetime viewing with blood and broken body parts and raw, visceral grief. We weren’t supposed to forget these terrifying ads – that was the whole point – but back then, we had no way of avoiding them either. If you watched broadcast TV, there was no escaping those speeding drivers or drunken hoons, even when the ads featured weirdly happy music

While today’s road safety ads are far less explicit (nipples for toes, anyone?), they still use emotional tactics to influence our driving. As we take a bumpy trip down life’s harrowing highway, remember: some of these ads are still brutal to watch. Please take care.

It’s the same day, David

This 1995 ad is a tragedy in two parts. First, there’s the family road trip where a woman reads husband Michael his horoscope (horror-scope, more like) before a terrible road crash. In act two, another woman visits her husband David in hospital to deliver a letter. It’s a speed camera ticket, showing David was doing 126km before he crashed into Michael’s car. “It’s the same day, David,” his weeping wife tells him. “Don’t say sorry to me, say sorry to his kids”. 

Shock value: 6/10, mostly because a lot of us are terrible people and have quoted these iconic lines in non-tragic circumstances ever since. 

You know I can’t grab your ghost chips

The 2011 Ghost Chips ad marked a departure in tone and style for our road safety campaigns (see also: “Good afterble, constanoon”). We couldn’t get enough of the ad’s goofball humour and classic one-liners, and in two months, this ad reached a shocking one million views online. More importantly, it was credited with helping to lower our teen drink driving numbers

Shock value: 1/10 (Ghost chips value: 10/10)

Mate, mate, mate… Dave

Only two words are spoken in this ad: “Mate” and “Dave”.  NZTA liked to tell us that you can’t always trust your mates, and the power of mateship was a common way to drive home (sorry) the consequences of speeding and drink-driving. This era of ads also featured a lot of dead pals with their eyes open (see: this dead friend, these dead friends (flame grilled undies never led to anything good), and these dead friends). 

Dave, Dave, Dave… (what’s with all the drunk drivers being called David?)

Shock value: 8/10

The road toll 

There’s a lot to take in with this recent safety ad, and most of it involves wondering why Yvonne from Shortland Street is wearing that terrifying wig. This ad is haunting and ominous and packs an emotional punch, although the impact lessens when I have to explain to my kids for the millionth time what the difference between a toll road and a road toll is. 

Shock factor: 6/10 

Youth speed

Youth Speed was a series of ads that ran over several weeks in the 2000s, with each new ad showing a different consequence of a life changed by speeding. There’s the car crash itself, the injured driver shunned by his grieving friends, and the ad where the driver’s mother prepares to help him in the toilet. Unforgettable. 

Shock value: 8/10

Women are drink drivers too

While the early drink-driving ads were aimed at young males, this ad was a powerful reminder that women drink and drive too. A woman crashes into a car after a few sneaky wines in the afternoon, only to discover that the other driver is pregnant. Truly awful. 

Shock value: 9/10

The one where they get out of the car

This 2014 ad was so powerful it slowed down time. Two drivers – one speeding, one pulling out from a stop sign – are about to crash, and the drivers get out of their cars to try to change the inevitable. It’s the boy in the back, it’s the pleading from the father, it’s the two simple mistakes that lead to a lifetime of heartache – before finally, the horrifying impact of the crash itself.  

Shock value: 10/10

Consequences

This ad has everything: the arrogant male driver, the speeding car, a life ruined by bad choices. But it’s the horrifying twist at the end that really leans into the nightmare, when we see the accident involved not only the bad driver, but an innocent pedestrian and her son. At this point we’d recommend never leaving home again, but even that’s not a good idea

Shock value: 10/10

Farm Gate

That’s enough now, NZTA. Nauseating and horrific. We will never drive again, we promise.

Shock value: 100/10

Always wear your safety belt

How was this ever allowed on the television?

Shock value: 1,000,000/10

Keep going!