RAC Takes Aim at “Irresponsible” Car Advertisers

Royal Automobile Club – Motoring Agenda

February 2002
By David Moir - General Manager - Group Policy and External Relations

Excessive speed and poor driving behaviour have long been recognised as contributing to unnecessary death and injury on our roads.

So why is it that in Australia, where millions of dollars of taxpayers money goes on promoting road safety, car manufacturers are allowed to spend an equivalent amount on advertising that uses speed as a central selling point, particularly to the high-risk group of young drivers?

Irresponsible car advertising is now a major issue among motoring associations, both nationally and internationally, and is being taken up vigorously by the RAC in Western Australia.

What is particularly concerning to the RAC is the effect persistent advertising using speed is having on influencing the behaviour of young drivers, particularly young males aged between 18 and 24.

We know that nationally and in Western Australia this group has the highest incidence of deaths and serious injuries on our roads.

About one-third of road deaths and serious injuries in WA occur within this age group.

A global view

Research by the Automobile Association (AA) in the United Kingdom into the attitudes of cars, car use and advertising found that young males have a greater interest in speed and danger, factors that often lead to road accidents.

The AA concluded that for young males “there was undoubtedly an interest in advertisements depicting speed and power”.

One of the reasons for the persistent use of speed in advertising by Australian car manufacturers may be the sense of freedom and independence from the restraints of childhood that car ownership represents to younger drivers.

According to the AA, young males have a tendency to see their car’s image influencing the way in which other people view them.

Fears or worries about accidents tend to be suppressed or blocked, resulting in young males placing little, if any, emphasis on the need for safety features in the cars they drive.

Given these concerns, many European countries have responded with strict codes of practice and some have imposed legal restrictions. Denmark can ban the broadcast of slogans that are incompatible with safety on the roads or which encourage dangerous or irresponsible behaviour.

In 1988 Spanish authorities introduced a general law on advertising that requires special permission to be granted for an advertisement that may give rise to behaviour that compromises personal safety.

Meanwhile, the British Independent Television Commission (BITC) code states that: “All driving which appears to take place on public roads or in public places must comply fully with both the letter and the spirit of the Highway Code.” According to BITC, speed is not an acceptable platform for automotive advertising and advertising should not present driving at high speeds as exciting or exhilarating.

This is a far cry from some of the more recent advertisements being aired in Australia, many of which would be banned from being shown in countries that have better road safety records than Australia.

The culprits

The most notable culprits in recent times have been the Mitsubishi VRX ‘speeding bullet’ ad, the Holden Ute ‘kick up a storm’ ad, the new Toyota Corolla ads and Alfa Romeo’s “Festival of Speed” press campaign.

The problem in Australia is that there are no regulations covering the use of speed or aggressive behaviour in car advertising. The closest guideline falls under the Australian Advertising Standards Bureau Section 2 Item 6 that states: “Advertisements shall not depict material contrary to prevailing community standards on health and safety.”

It would appear that many of the above mentioned advertisements run contrary to ‘prevailing community standards of health and safety’ given the huge investments by State Governments throughout Australia on advertising campaigns aimed at tackling death and injury on our roads.

Time for action

In Western Australia the State Government spends about $7 million annually on high-profile road safety television and press campaigns.

For every taxpayer dollar spent on promoting safe and responsible driving, some car manufacturers are spending the equivalent or more money on undermining what the community clearly sees as an important public health and safety issue.

Much of our advertising dollar is aimed at encouraging and stimulating changes in driving behaviour, which is where we can achieve large gains in road safety.

To maximise the community’s investment in road safety education and promotion and to save the lives of younger motorists, both the Federal Government and the States must push for changes to our regulations that are at least in line with British standards.

The Australian Automobile Association (AAA) and the RAC have been encouraged by the call from Federal Parliamentary Secretary for Transport, Senator Ron Boswell, for a specific advertising code for vehicle advertising similar to Britain and New Zealand.

The RAC believes there is also a strong role for the Gallop Government to lobby other States to seek changes to Australian advertising regulations.

The most appropriate forum would be through the Australian Transport Council, which includes the Federal Minister for Transport and the equivalent counterparts in each State.

Strong action is needed by the State Government to maximise the community’s investment in the promotion of road safety and in saving the lives of young people on our roads.

For further information please log on to www.aaa.asn.au or www.theaa.com

Australian Parents Against Road Trauma (APART Inc) is an organisation helping to reduce road trauma in WA, formed last year as a result of a road crash in 1999 involving a speeding driver that claimed the lives of two young people.

APART recently presented a petition to the Australian Advertising Standards Bureau saying that the motoring industry has a duty of care, should be made accountable and must take a more responsible attitude towards speed and advertising.

For further information on APART call Marilyn Southern on: (08) 9293-0990