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$400K cycling ad campaign won’t work, says campaigner

The government’s $400,000 ad campaign aimed at reducing cycle deaths is a waste of money, says Clive Matthew-Wilson, editor of the car review website

The bus, billboard and radio campaign features images of everyday cyclists wearing T-shirts labelling them as someone's loved one, such as a son, father or aunt (see image above right).

"The campaign is designed to personalise and humanise people cycling so motorists see them as real people who have a right to share the road safely," says NZ Transport Agency spokesman Ewart Barnsley.

"With their backs to the drivers and a helmet on, cyclists can look like silhouettes and drivers don't usually see their faces. We want to remind drivers when they are on the road that cyclists are everyday people just like them."

Mr Matthew-Wilson, who is an outspoken road safety campaigner, says, “Let me be perfectly clear: almost every credible study ever done has concluded that road safety ads don’t work.”

The highly respected American Institute for Highway Safety collated the results of 30 years of scientific studies of the effectiveness of road safety advertising, and concluded:

“Research indicates that education has no effect, or only a very limited effect, on habits like staying within speed limits, heeding stop signs, and using safety belts.”

“[Until you check out the facts,] who can argue against the benefits of education or training?” asks Institute chief scientist Allan Williams. “But when good scientific evaluations are undertaken, most of the driver improvement programs based on education or persuasion alone are found not to work.”

ABOVE: The NZTA's "Mistakes" anti-speeding ad has gone viral on YouTube, clocking more than 4.2 million views since it was posted January 5. Commentator David Farrar says it is "An excellent ad, and much better use of resources than their billboard campaign to remind people that they share the road with others."

Dr Terry Macpherson, a lecturer in marketing at Massey University, agrees, saying "Advertising is a great way of getting people to do what they already want to do, such as buy hamburgers. However, ads telling people not to do something generally only work if the person watching the ad is already on your side. An example is anti drug campaigns for teenagers, which have been running for decades. On paper, they make perfect sense. In the real world, most studies show they make little or no difference at all.”

Mr Matthew-Wilson says the biggest tragedy about ad campaigns such as the one the government is running, is that they give the illusion that something is being done about the problem, when, often, it’s not.

“Cyclists are among the most vulnerable of road users. Every single one of my friends who cycle regularly has had a potentially-fatal clash with a motor vehicle.”

“The only real way to protect cyclists from this carnage is to separate them from motorists. Cycle lanes are a good start, but ultimately, there needs to be a physical barrier between cyclists and car users, so the two can’t collide.”

Mr Matthew-Wilson says the major problem is that road planners tend to see cyclists as a nuisance rather than legitimate road users.

“Road planners tend to see the road as a pipe: the more vehicles you fit through the pipe, the better. However, this sort of road planning inevitably causes competition between motorists and cyclists. The end result is multiple deaths, countless injuries, and a population that is increasingly scared to ride bicycles on public roads.

“It’s time for the government to stop treating cyclists as a nuisance and instead to start treating cyclists as valued citizens who ease congestion, reduce pollution and save fuel. Apart from the weather, the main downside to cycling is the road conditions that the cyclists have to endure.”

Comments and questions

People who choose to share the road with cars by cycling are essentially foolish.

All the theorising in the world doesn't disguise the fact that this is simply dangerous.Only genuine safety barriers could ever make this safe. So why do it? And then why complain about the consequences?

NZTA and OPUS International (NZers' taxes and .ocal body rates pay for this Malaysian-owned company), have a lot to answer for wasting money on useless, in fact often distracting advertising, while not addressing the real issues - the importance of prioritising safety barriers to prevent various categories of road users from hitting one another.

Frittering away money on advertising, and cutting down trees along roadsides is not addressing these issues. Moreover removing the trees that make our landscape more beautiful is more than a shortfall in thinking.

It is dangerous,too for those walking to have to share a footpath with cyclists, or those on scooters.

We need a far better return from our money from both the NZTA and OPUS.

Casandra I do not consider my self foolish, quite the contrary - I think most car users are fools. I have commuted by cycle for 30 years plus..every working day, rain or sun on a main city route. My ride is approx 6 k each way, a major NZ city. I seldom if ever have a problem with motorists - most in my experiance are pretty damn good (maybe cause i don't wear lycra!). I am saving thousands each year in vehicle expenses and gym fees. I am mystified why everyone else is driving to work?

Note that most cyclists also drive so have a more balanced perspective - when did you last ride a bike?

Cassandra, you need to get out more; biking is healthy and if more did it it would be far safer, and far less pollution and people dying from obesity related ilnnesses too!

Road safety needs a really hard nosed approach, if you are proven to have caused an accident with either a cyclist or another car you loose your licence for 5 years, caught driving in that period you never get it back. Third party insurance mandatory for all cars, drivers under 25 no modifications to their cars or motorbikes, cyclists carry insurance for damage they create to other road users . Push bikes the road code is there for you as well if you are proven to have caused an accident catch a bus/train for the next five years.
This will never fly, due to the parties that are required to put this in place do not have the testicle fortitude to put it in place and those that have to enforce are tooo lazy to make it happen.

There's merit in making TPO vehicle insurance mandatory, but the rest of your comment(s) are pretty fooling and ignorant. By your reckoning, any road user who has a genuine at fault accident (i.e. not crimanally negligent) will have their freedom seriously curtailed for an extended period of time. Any cyclist with a household contents policy will have public liability insurance for any legal liability xfor damage they cause as the result of an accident anyway

My goodness, First I read the story, well written and excellent points made, then Cassandra : “People who choose to share the road with cars by cycling are essentially foolish”. Followed by PJS among other outlandish comments “cyclists carry insurance”.
Just because I own a motorised vehicle it gives me no more right to use the road than a cyclist. From your perspective it would see a Semi- Trailer has more right to the road that a car. What is needed is just what you all should have been taught prior to getting a licence to drive, common sense and road skill. I do not have a problem sitting behind a cyclist for 1km or 2km before I can pass, it will have me arriving at my destination, 2 minutes later than I thought. I am sure in a lifetime this will not matter.
The insurance? So you are advocating taking all kids off the roads and in fact anyone who owns a bike who does not have insurance. (Funny many cyclists may already have public liability insurance with their house-hold policy, or should have if they own a pet). Of further concern, who is going to monitor this, the police? They have too much to do already. I do agree with many of your other comments, but please stop sniffing the air-freshener when typing.

A cyclist that commutes and fails to obey the road code and causes an accident had better have insurance cover, that is the group that should be targeted. Car owners who have no form of insurance cover catch a bus/train. Does this define it a little more JP.

There are plenty of car drivers with no insurance. There are also a lot of unroadworthy vehicles and unlicensed ones given the infringement notices issued.
It is not compulsory to hold insurance and there are growing numbers of unlicensed drivers who think it is a right to be able to drive rather than a privilege.

Sure make separate cycle lanes for the cyclists - but then charge them registration for their bikes to use the roads eh?!!!!

2% of the population bike regularly apparently , so a disproportionate amount of tax money (local and central) is being spent on this group. Do you see the same money being spent on other recreational sports. I don't think so! It is up to cyclists to look after their own well being and maybe not bike on busy commuter roads but take other routes. Seems they want the easy option tho' and everything their way and so they won't do this. Additionally so many of them take no notice of road rules, so sadly they sometimes get their comeuppance. They are a law unto themselves. I enjoy biking and do so often but certainly not on or around busy Auckland thoroughfares

Yes, 2% cycle, far less play rugby and/or soccer/hockey - do the councils charge full whack for those facilities? No.

When you swim at a public pool do you pay the full cost, or is it supported via rates? Of course, via council rates.

BTW I bike and own three registered vehicles, my bike does 7K per annum, my car 10K pe rannum, but I can tell you which does less damage to the roading infrastructure and which one causes less congestion - and it isn't the bike!

From my observations at least 99 out of 100 car drivers fail to indicate when overtaking cyclists. This reflects a cultural failure to acknowledge cyclists as fellow road users. I would far rather see a campaign to enforce the need to signal when overtaking cyclists than pictures of cyclists wearing shirts with mum, dad or auntie.

What seems to annoy car drivers the most is cyclists going through red lights. Radical solution - make it legal for cyclists to go through red lights if they want to. There will not be any more accidents if this is allowed as cyclists are very aware that if they make a mistake it is likely to hurt.