The Best Road Safety Ads of All Time

In years past, negative behaviours such as reckless driving, speeding and drunk driving were treated with a nudge and a wink. But despite more cars being on the road than ever, the amount of deaths on the road have been declining.

To be fair, the bulk of the credit for this result has to go to improved safety technology in the automotive industry, along with more stringent government regulations such as stricter enforcement of speeding and drink driving. It’s been estimated that the invention of the three-point safety belt by itself has saved up to a million lives.

But don’t understand the importance of advertising has had in changing the general public’s attitude to acceptable behaviour when behind the wheel.

Table of Contents

A brilliant creative opportunity with a difficult client

Government ministers and public service managers can be tricky to navigate. There are multiple layers of approval, each trying to second guess what the next person up the chain of command might think. Elections can complete change the work landscape. New and inexperienced voices can be given influential positions that can upend the agencies relationship with the client.

And since public money is being spent on these comms, the level of scrutiny is heightened. After all, no one wants a public outcry.

There are multiple motivations, egos and unseen agendas in play. But as a creative – that’s not your job to manage. Your agency should have account people or management used to working with government clients. Use them as your sherpa.

Your responsibility is to keep the integrity of the creative concept intact. Yes, you may have some compromises. But one of the greatest skills a creative can develop is the ability to artfully conceal the compromises and keep the final piece of work as good as it can be.

It’s moments like this that a great account person can really shine.

Road Safety Advertising: Shock advertising at it's best

You’ll see a lot of advertising from Australia in this list of the best road safety ads. Particularly from the state of Victoria (where Melbourne is).

That’s because the agency that really first managed to master the shock tactics of road safety campaigns was Clemenger / BBDO. Their annual work for the state road safety authority was a reliable winner at Cannes for the entirety of the 1990’s and 2000’s. The work for this client was the foundation for the creative excellence the agency has became renowned for.

At first the work was brutally confrontational. In time, thanks to great creatives led by Ant Keogh, it became more nuanced and intelligent. But still incredibly compelling and effective.

Shock tactics in advertising aren’t new. Anti-smoking campaigns as well as weapons control PSA’s have a long history. But bringing horror of the sheer carnage of a car crash and it’s traumatic aftermath to a TV screen was difficult to do. Clemenger/BBDO cracked it. This first ad below is the one that started it off.

If you drink then drive, you’re a bloody idiot. Sometimes advertising lines shouldn’t be clever.

More TAC work from Australia

We will be showing more work for TAC (Transport Accident Commission) throughout this article. This section will focus on the Shock-style of advertising that made the client famous and effectively achieved it’s behavior-modification goals.

But the Kiwis can do this style just as well

Maybe better. Ad nerds have pointed out that there was a very similar concept that was made in Thailand a few years earlier. Ok, exactly the same concept. But this is great, however it came to be.

Road Safety Ad Approach Two: Making it personal

One of the difficult things about advertising is for the viewer to put themselves in the situation, and feel that it is an issue that affects them. Some brands have used technology in a beautiful way to make the effect more visceral to the viewer.

Quebec Road Safety: Bus Stop

This is a simple installation which earned a huge amount of earned media in it’s market. It’s a beautiful rug-pull.

Road Safety Approach Three: The cerebral approach

The ‘ah-hah’ moment. Everyone likes to be charmed. Appealling to a person’s intelligence via unexpected creative approaches has been beautifully done. Perhaps none better than this first ad from the UK – perhaps my personal favorite from this selection of road safety ads.

It’s a close one with the campaign seen just below it. The celebrated ‘Meet Graham’ campaign from the iconic Clemenger / BBDO.

Meet Graham

The concept is a very interesting approach in itself. But what makes this such a brilliant campaign is the quality of the execution. The agency collaborated with perhaps the perfect artist/sculptor for this model build. The result is somewhat alien. But still remarkably human and relatable. Even though he is an imaginary example of what we would need to evolve to to  be able to survive car accidents unscathed, Graham feels all too real.

The Morning After

What I like about this piece of film is its simplicity and cost effectiveness. It has a real everyman-ness to it that cuts through an ad break and really stands apart. This style of road safety advertising is quite typical of the UK, who have historically preferred a cerebral / intellectual approach to the brief.

Role Models

The TAC and Clemenger / BBDO do it again. A beautifully choreographed piece.

Road Safety Ad Approach Four: Humor

Humor? Really?

It doesn’t seem the product category that would result in a humorous response to the brief. But there have been some wonderful pieces that have done a brilliant job for the product. Including this first one by Taika Waititi (before he was famous).

This next piece was a re-lyric version of a Dennis Leary song that was actually a massive mainstream hit single all around the world. (Really!). Some creatives will warn you about ‘borrowed interest’, but if a piece of comms works – it works. This is great.

Finally, this last piece is so utterly New Zealand. It’s brilliant. It seems that it was written especially to have Taika Waititi direct it. But the brilliant Steve Ayson made it his own and did a fantastic job. It’s incredibly meme-able.

Road Safety Ad Approach Five: Other emotions than shock


This piece is based on a simple insight. People speeding think they’re cool, but viewers on the outside think that maybe they are compensating for something. Incredibly effective, and perfectly pitched at the right audience.


The sorrow of the people left behind. Again, Clemenger/BBDO from Melbourne.

Love of Family

Yet again, Clemenger/BBDO from Melbourne knock it out of the park. This is beautifully produced – the talent genuinely had no idea what was happening. The logistical challenges were immense.

Road Safety Ad Approach Seven: Do something different

Look, this one is a wild-card. It never won any grand awards ( judges are fickle and fallible, and don’t always get it right).

What I love is that the agency and director have channeled the personality of the type of person that often takes reckless chances when driving. They’ve shown the joy of his life. His everyday silliness and gregariousness. And they show him knowing the right time to switch that off and do the right thing.

Honestly, it’s a stunning piece of work and I believe it deserves to be more celebrated. 

Did we miss one?

We’d love this to be a comprehensive resource, so if you think there’s a campaign we’ve missed that deserves to be here, please reach out and we’ll do our best to include it.

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