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History of road safety advertising

The national road safety advertising and enforcement campaign began in its current form in 1995. However, some one-off road safety ads were developed prior to this. The campaign aimed to reduce the number of people dying or injured on the road.

By 1995, our annual road toll was close to 600. The main causes were drink-driving, driving at excessive speed and not wearing safety belts. Other driving errors such as not giving way, not stopping and not keeping left were also contributing factors.

International comparisons of road deaths per 10,000 vehicles, ranked New Zealand’s driving record 14th out of 24 OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries in 1995.

Estimates of the total cost of road deaths to New Zealand society is around $3.6 billion each year. This figure was reached by measuring the cost of all damages resulting from road crashes.

Changing the way we drive

In 1995, the National Road Safety Plan set an ambitious goal to reduce the annual road toll to no more than 420 deaths by the year 2001. As this and the other targets of the plan weren't likely to be met without additional efforts and initiatives, a new approach was required.

As part of this approach, a new road safety package to improve driver behaviour was endorsed by government. This package was substantially based on the world's best practice Transport Accident Commission (TAC) programme that was successfully developed in Victoria, Australia. Between 1990 and 1993 the TAC strategy helped prevent an estimated 10,800 serious injury crashes and halved the state's road toll over the five years from December 1989.

Key priorities for New Zealand roads were identified through research and crash statistics. The initial priorities were drink-driving and driving at excessive speed.

The strategy of the campaign was to have an increased law enforcement presence on the roads supported by hard-hitting, high-profile advertising. A blueprint developed from the Victorian experience specified the style, media mix and weight for the advertising component of the programme. From this, vivid, realistic road safety advertisements that specifically targeted offenders were produced to great success.

Between 1995 and 1997, changes to the road toll were dramatic. There were substantial reductions in serious road crashes, deaths (111 fewer), police-reported injuries (19% less) and hospitalisations (12% less).

Best practice

Since 1995, there's been little change to the campaign's strategy. That's because the strategy is proven best practice and it works.

Campaign priorities are determined by government transport strategies. But while individual campaigns (drink-driving, speed, giving way, safety belt use, drug-affected driving, young drivers, fatigue, driver distraction, vehicle safety, rail safety) have changed and evolved since 1995, the basic formula adopted from Victoria remains the same.

Read more about the government's transport strategy  (external link)



Key events


The TAC road safety and enforcement campaign begins in Victoria, Australia.


New Zealand adopts the campaign strategy used by TAC in Victoria, Australia. Our key priorities are drink-driving and driving at excessive speed.


A new stream is introduced. A supplementary budget is provided for safety belt publicity.


As New Zealand has joined the Australian New Car Assessment Programme (ANCAP), ANCAP advertising is introduced.


A new stream is introduced. The advertising campaign focuses on drivers' failure to give way at intersections. This is the third largest contributing factor to road crashes after driving at excessive speed and drink-driving.


A road safety education initiative Up to Scratch is launched with a television special that tests people's knowledge of the Road code and the road rules. The initiative is made up of several scratch test brochures that are designed to test people's driving knowledge. Correct tests (9/10) can be sent in for various prize draws, including the chance to win a new car. Advertising also takes place on television.


While the national campaign's primary audience continues to be the offenders, it expands to include friends and family of the offender and members of the wider community. We want the community to reject dangerous driving and demand a change in behaviour from dangerous drivers.


The Up to Scratch programme comes to an end.


A new stream is introduced. Driving while fatigued aims to raise awareness about the significance of driving when tired.


Along with NZ Police, KiwiRail, the Greater Wellington Regional Council, Veolia and the Chris Cairns Foundation, we have involvement in a rail safety campaign. This campaign aims to increase community awareness of rail safety and promote rail safety throughout New Zealand.


A new stream is introduced. This campaign focuses on vehicle safety and aims to raise awareness about some of the new safety features available in some vehicles. It directs people to the Rightcar website and ties in with the existing ANCAP advertising.


A change to the road user rule means that police can now test drivers for drug-driving. A public awareness campaign is introduced to let people know about the law change.


Government transport priorities change as a result of Safer journeys: New Zealand’s road safety strategy 2010–2020. Accordingly, the campaign is reprioritised. As New Zealand now has a 96% front-seatbelt wearing rate across the country, the national campaign no longer focuses on safety belt use. It also no longer focuses on the failure to give way at intersections or rail safety. Instead, a stronger emphasis will be placed on drug-affected driving and younger drivers.


A new stream is introduced. The first stage of a long-term behavioural change campaign that aims to reduce the harm caused by drug-affected drivers asks the question: ‘Drug driving. Do you think it’s a problem?’

2013 A new stream is introduced. Our ‘Drive Social’ campaign launched with a big, open-ended question: ‘If we stopped thinking ‘cars’ and started thinking ‘people’, would it change the way we drive?’ The campaign aims to change the way people think about the road. It is based on a key insight that people often behave differently on the road than in other social spaces. Drive Social reframes the way people think about the road and driving – from seeing it largely as a solo pursuit to a social one. Our driving affects others.
2013 A new stream is introduced. Our driver distraction campaign starts off looking at the issue of using a mobile phone when driving. 
2014 Drive Social finished as an independent campaign in December. The Drive Social brand is still visible across some other campaigns where it is relevant.