Israel using shock tactics to reduce road death toll

It’s almost impossible to pass a car accident anywhere in the world without stopping to look in shock, horror and fascination at the distressing scene. Rubbernecking, a seemingly uncontrollable trait that comes from a deep place of human curiosity, is being used in a powerful campaign in Israel to turn this morbid fascination into something positive.

In the center of Zion Square, Jerusalem, one of the most popular tourist spots and meeting places for young and old, Israel’s National Road Safety Authority placed a severely wrecked car that one could not walk past without stopping to look at in horror.

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Surrounded by red and white police tape and three officers, when I first walked past, I was sure that I was looking at a real car accident scene. Upon coming a little closer, I noticed a sign near the wreck which read: “This car was involved in a fatal traffic accident in which a 30-year-old man was killed.”

It’s one of the more powerful examples of advertising, which uses shock tactics to deliver a strong message.

Over 30,000 people have been killed in road accidents in Israel since 1948, which is 6,000 more than the total number of people killed in all of Israel’s wars. This campaign, entitled “we are fighting for our lives”, hopes to remind every Israeli that each one of the road victims died in an awful and terrifying manner. Yet there are already questions being raised by a number of Israelis online about whether this shock strategy will work.

The Martin Agency CEO Matt Williams has noted that a number of brands now seem to acknowledge the limitations of shock. “Rather than road-safety ads based on a gratuitous car crash or anti-smoking campaigns showing stomach-churning images of fat-filled arteries, agencies have begun to take a different approach.

Highlighting the emotional consequences of the issues – how it will affect your conscience or your loved ones – is the new trend,” said Williams in CampaignLive.

This approach was taken by an alternate campaign to prevent pedestrian deaths, which is also running in Israel at the moment by the same National Road Safety Authority that placed the car wreck in Zion Square.

Prof. Tova Rosenbloom, head of the Research Institute of Human Factors in Road Safety at Bar-Ilan University, has noted that “in every Western country, pedestrian injuries make up only 10% of the total traffic injuries. In Israel, the numbers are between 30% and 40%, this is totally abnormal.”

In the National Road Safety Authority campaign to combat pedestrian casualties on the road, there are no graphic scenes of children being violently run over by speeding vehicles. Instead, in both the images and video that accompany the campaign, we see people stopping at a busy road crossing waiting to cross a multi-lane highway with many drivers ignoring the requirement to stop. Gradually, we see each pedestrian raising a sign with a personal message to the drivers who are speeding past. Instead of the ad ending with a tragic car crash, blood and tears, the voice over implies that tragedy could be averted if every driver remembers that “we treat every pedestrian like they are family – saving their lives!” Time will tell whether the shock tactic of the car wreck or the implied tactic of the pedestrian campaign will be more effective.

Either way, seeing the issue of road safety again being brought to the forefront of the Israeli consciousness through these different types of approaches can only be good for the well-being of all the pedestrians and road users who travel this beautiful country every day.

One fact I know for sure is that sending out this message in the best way possible is essential, for all our lives depend on getting it right.

The writer is a freelance journalist and educator in Jerusalem.