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New Zealand cyclist safety campaign slammed by campaigners and scientists

Advertising doesn't make people do things they didn't want to already, say opponents...

A high profile advertising campaign in New Zealand designed to humanise cyclists and reduce deaths on the roads has been dismissed as useless by a road safety campaigner.

The billboards, bus and radio advertisements cost NZ$400,000 (£200,000) to implement, but are a waste of money, according to Clive Matthew-Wilson, editor of the car review website

The campaign features images of cyclists wearing t-shirts that label them as a son, father or aunt to a loved one.

"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," NZ Transport Agency spokesman Ewart Barnsley told The National Business Review.

"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 responded, “Let me be perfectly clear: almost every credible study ever done has concluded that road safety ads don’t work.”

Citing the findings of the American Institute for Highway Safety studying 30 years of scientific research into the effectiveness of road safety advertising, Mr Matthew-Wilson said: “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.”

The NZ Transport Agency released a video entitled ‘Mistakes’, which has clocked more than 5 million views of its anti-speeding message since last week.


Like the cyclist campaign it aims to humanise and put a face to the person in the other car.

Dr Terry Macpherson, a lecturer in marketing at Massey University said: "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 added: “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.

“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.”

Just a couple of months ago we reported how THINK! Cyclist, a campaign designed to highlight to cyclists and motorists ways to share the road safely that has been running in London since September 2012, is to be rolled out to five other cities in England.

Outdoor advertising will be put in place in Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Leeds and Manchester to highlight to drivers and people on bikes alike potential hazards when sharing space.

Developed by Transport for London (TfL) and the Department for Transport (DfT), the initiative aims to reinforce a culture of mutual respect among road users with the aim of improving safety.

When the campaign was launched the year before in London, no cycling body endorsed it, and CTC was critical of some of the campaign’s advice.

CTC campaigns and policy director Roger Geffen says the organisation’s stance hasn’t changed.

He told “CTC welcomes the posters and has no problem with the imagery, but has long-standing concerns about some of THINK!’s associated ‘tips’, especially its advice to drivers to give cyclists at least half a car’s width.

“This is far less than the overtaking distance recommended in the Highway Code: “…as much room as you  would when overtaking a car" – i.e. far more than half a car's width in most cases.

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a_to_the_j | 10 years ago

echoing all the above comments, having road cycled in and around Auckland for many years as well as most of Europe, Auckland / NZ Drivers / NZ Cycling really does rate as the worst i've ever encountered...

as for the coke can in the face while riding, aye, got that a few times in Auckland, as well as being spat at, weaved into, and oncoming overtaking with no space but to crunch onto the grass. If i ever went back i'd never cycle there again.

Nzlucas | 10 years ago

Having got into road cycling here in the UK, its a shame that i am not looking forward to cycling in NZ because some of the roads would be world class to cycle. I suspect in Taranaki where i am from it will be no better than the Manawatu.

I guess thats why Mountain Biking is more popular over there....

davecochrane replied to Nzlucas | 10 years ago

It can be phenomenal, and if the chip seal in Taranaki is any good I'm sure you'll have a great time. Kia kaha!  4

GerardR | 10 years ago

Let's not get sidetracked into the helmet argument (though I've been hit hard without and, years later when they had been mandated, with one: I know which I prefer).

Kiwis (speaking as one) are nice people who want to be friends with everyone, but lose their usual inhibitions behind the wheel.

I've driven in many parts of the world and cycled in some: yup, NZ's down there with the worst of them. My colleagues in Toulouse couldn't get over firstly, my cycling in their city and secondly, my view that it was much safer than home.

Joeinpoole | 10 years ago

I've driven in plenty of places all over the world and I have no hesitation whatsoever in nominating the drivers of North Island, New Zealand (specifically), as the most ignorant and stupid individuals I have ever witnessed in charge of motor vehicles.

I wouldn't even *dream* of cycling there. Their ridiculous helmet laws offer absolutely no protection against the utterly insane driving that appears to be 'normal' to the locals. Ironically it's not so bad in the cities or towns ... it's the rural areas where check-shirted madness is at its peak. Truckers and SUV drivers in particular will simply NOT accept the concept of being held up by a slower vehicle. If highly threatening tail-gating for a mile or two doesn't work then they are more than happy to overtake at speed on a blind bend ... before turning into their destination about 1/4 mile later.

RPK replied to Joeinpoole | 10 years ago

The helmet laws lobbied for by the "helmet lady" failed to take into account that the general NZ drivers HATES anyone in front of them.

RPK | 10 years ago

As a kiwi cyclist, I sure as hell won't ride on any of our roads without a helmet. This isn't Copenhagen.

A V Lowe | 10 years ago

Removing the helmets and shades might actually be a better way to make the cyclists more 'human' in appearance than T shirts perhaps?

rokapotamus | 10 years ago

I totally agree with davecochrane's comments. I live in Tauranga, Bay of Plenty. I've no idea what makes the normally laid back person into a crazy lunatic when they get into a car. This is definitely on of the worst countries I've cycled in.
Just to address the balance, there are some really great and courteous drivers out there.

davecochrane | 10 years ago

I can report from personal experience of cycling in the Manawatu (central lower north island) that anything will be better than the attitude towards cyclists that exists now. A combination of ACC (national insurance cover which negates the legal need for car insirance), 15 year olds being allowed a license, and the cheap availability of Impreza STIs, means that cycling in NZ can at times be utterly terrifying. The bunch I rode with had seen shotguns pointed out of car windows more than once, and having cans of coke sail at your face at a closing speed of 135km/h on rural roads is not funny.

I'm delighted that more is being done.  1

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