27 July 2009

Driving Kills - Health Warnings

I think it's safe to say that we have a pressing need for marketing cycling positively if we're to encourage people to ride bicycles and begin the transformation of our cities into more liveable places.

Instead of scare campaigns about cycling [a life-extending, healthy, sustainable transport form], wouldn't it be more appropriate to begin campaigns about the dangers of automobiles? Many people in car-centric countries no longer regard the automobile as dangerous. Maybe they realise it, but the car is such an ingrained part of our culture that the perception of danger rarely rises to the surface of peoples consciousness. Sure, there are scare campaigns for cars out there, but what if we just cut to the chase.

Much like smoking. Only a couple of decades ago cigarettes were an integral part of life, whether you smoked or not. That has changed radically. I am certainly not comparing the dangers of smoking to the dangers of driving, I just think that we could borrow freely from the health warnings now found on cigarette packs around the world.

Removing the status associated with driving is something that is slowly evolving. Speeding that process might be a good idea. We don't even have to mention bicycles, because it's not all about that. It's about reducing traffic accidents, harmful emissions and noise pollution.

On Tom Vanderbilt's blog How We Drive we can read:
"The world’s death toll from swine flu? 87 (according to the CDC) The number of global road fatalities, using WHO’s annual figure of 1.2 million, since the swine flu outbreak was first detected (using a very rough benchmark of a month ago)? 98,630."

In Denmark, 4000 people die every year because of the health hazards related to cars - and that's ten times greater than the number of people actually killed in car accidents. Respiratory illnesses, heart disease, stress-related illnesses caused by noise pollution, etc.

Very few people are aware that the levels of dangerous microparticles from exhaust are actually higher INSIDE the car than if you're cycling next to it. So let's focus on this fact and hopefully encourage motorists to think twice about their actions.

Shouldn't we have rules dictating that all advertisments for automobiles must have clearly visible warning labels? There are a variety of smoking texts that can be applied to the car health warnings.

Car emissions cause emphysema / Driving causes cancer / Driving clogs your arteries / Don't transport your children by car / Driving - A leading cause of death / Quitting will improve your health / Driving harms unborn babies / Driving is addictive / Car emissions are toxic /

And so on. Wikipedia has a comprehensive list.

The rules dictating health warnings on cigarettes packs usually involve reserving 30% of the surface for the warning. If we have health warnings on car advertisments then we should certainly have to have health warnings on the product itself. Imagine carmakers having to plaster 30% of the surface of each side of the car with health warnings. On the sides of trucks, the message would be massive.

Imagine the impact it would make on the public psyche.

If we think practically about implementing this idea, certain clauses would be necessary. Electric cars would not need to be plastered with the "Dangerous emissions" warnings, just the ones about how driving kills, etc.

In the first phase car owners would be able to purchase large stickers with heavy duty adhesive and in various sizes depending on their vehicle. Using reflective material so the warnings are visible at night would be a good idea. A little cottage industry would pop up, with companies offering to stick the warnings on, while you wait. Consumers could choose from a list of approved warnings instead of just being stuck with whatever they're given.

In time, carmakers could implement the warning labels directly into the design and paint job of the car, as long as they adhere to the directive's requirements for size and font.

Public transport companies would benefit and they could propose targeted warnings http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifthat would benefit trains, busses and even bicycles. This BMW advert, above, is a fine example of how bicycle shops could enjoy increased sales.

If there is a fee involved with purchasing the stickers for your car - which their should be - the proceeds could go to planting trees in cities, to charities dealing with obese children or illnesses caused by car pollution.
A good idea whose time has come. Coupled with mandatory motoring helmet laws, we'll well on our way to the demotorization of our cities.

Addendum: I've learned that a similar proposal - not quite as logical as the above - was discussed in Brussels with high-ranking members of the EU government. Back in 2008. Not much came of it.

Then a reader sent us this link to a health-warning proposal back in 2007.


Bristol Traffic said...

In france you are now required to have a hi-viz vest in your car. If you were actually required to wear it while driving, it would ruin all attempts to look cool in a car.

Carlton said...

Love it, Mikael!

A great idea, albeit one that could never happen. Could it?

In the UK we could never even bring in the EU Fifth Motoring directive.

Mikael said...

could it happen?
common sense has never been easy to implement.

the car industry is powerful and they would certainly fight it.

but all it ever takes is one visionary politician to push things through.

Zweiradler said...

Great idea!

anna said...

Great, I absolutely love it. Actually people here in Austria once had a similar idea -- they printed such warnings on A4 and sticked them under peoples' windshields.

Mikael said...

so, anna, what you're saying is that Austrians are stealing my fabulous ideas even BEFORE I invent them?! Shocking. :-)

portlandize.com said...

In the U.S., for the first time, diseases related to obesity and sedentary lifestyles have caused more deaths than smoking-related diseases. Granted, there is some overlap, and obviously other non-car-related causes, however, it's becoming increasingly obvious that the U.S. in general needs to wake up and start moving around on their own power.

I remember one particular smoking ad that I used to see a few years back, with a drooping cigarette, and the headline "Smoking causes impotence." :)

We could definitely make some good adverts about the detriments of excessive car usage. Here especially though, I have a feeling it's going to be a long time before the posting of such ads is anything but an underground effort.

Nate Briggs said...

Hey Mikael:

Demotorization could be helped very much by new policies on the part of those automotive enablers: the Mainstream Media.

Here's a little statistic from Tom Vanderbilt's blog HOW WE DRIVE:

"The world’s death toll from swine flu? 87 (according to the CDC) The number of global road fatalities, using WHO’s annual figure of 1.2 million, since the swine flu outbreak was first detected (using a very rough benchmark of a month ago)? 98,630."

Imagine a national newscast that summed up the week by mentioning: "And this week, the number of automobile-related deaths worldwide - men, women, and children - totalled 5,887...."

Most Americans I talk to simply don't believe the regular annual death toll on our highways (currently running over 42,000 in the US).

Their logic seems to be: if it was that big a problem, the news would report it.

Keep up the good work.

... Nate (SLC)

Green Idea Factory said...

Don't exempt electric cars from your clever concept! Right now in many places "plug in hybrids" get recharged from home current, which means they avoid all the high taxes for benzine, Diesel or gas, and pay even way less than what would be their fare share of fees for using the roads.

Also, the source of the electricity matters a lot.

Jacqui said...


I love this post. It makes me realise I'm not alone. I have been reading about the history of cigarettes and the advocacy that went into banning advertising, introducing social marketing etc. and I think that it is possible.

Christa said...

Great ideas.

You're right, most people (especially in the United States) don't see the entire impact of an automobile dependent society. I've been wondering if it a societal disease, an addiction.

You could take it a step further and put photos of collisions and obese people on adverts and other promotional items. I remember seeing grotesque photos pasted on cigarette boxes in Australia.

I just read in Autophobia (http://books.google.com/books?id=NV5IRPwGBgUC&printsec=frontcover) that 30 million people have died since the automobile was invented (don't remember the page number).

jsrassat said...

Gorgeous! Completely and utterly gorgeous!

Melbourne Cyclist said...


Love it, forwarding it on to many people now...

ps my verification word is "cancereg" - seems appropriate.

Melbourne Cyclist said...

Another thought: warning labels may reduce hooning too. A 'hoon' is an Aussie term for an idiot younger driver, who thinks it's cool to do things like drag race down the street, make their tyres squeal as they accelerate away, and scare the bejesus out of cyclists by swerving into us at speed, often throwing empty beer bottles. More on Wikipedia.

They of course have to have a car that they think looks cool - I'm sure you can all imagine the type of thing that would appeal - and warning labels would definitely not be cool...

Adrienne Johnson said...

OK. That girl in the BMW ad is, maybe, 12! Gross! Does this ad mean that driving a BMW will turn you into a creepy pedophile? That might work to turn people off the product.

Mikael said...

great comments.

the BMW ad was pulled because of complaints. oooh. quelle surpris alors.

Anonymous said...

Cars have long had messages, often political, on their rear ends. Bumper stickers. What about a panel at the back of a bike for a racker sticker?

I'll never forget the sticker which said; kissing a smoker is like licking an ashtray. So that becomes, kissing a driver is like licking up sump oil. Mike Rubbo

Downfader said...

I love these poster mockups!! Good work, very funny! :-D

Adrienne Johnson said...

Annon 18:00 said- I'll never forget the sticker which said; kissing a smoker is like licking an ashtray. So that becomes, kissing a driver is like licking up sump oil

I say- Kissing a driver is like sucking a siphon hose (although, I hate to say so as my husband is driving home from work as I type this and he is most certainly NOT like kissing a siphon hose! )

Just a cyclist said...

OMG. If I would find that these messages would be pushed on me this way - as an official attitude that I'd need to adopt - I'm telling you that I'd directly cancel my next bike building project and would immediately, with a high degree of awareness, redirect my spendings on taking a driving license. Although I don't really like the cars around me and can do very well without one it is an option I'd like to keep.

workbike said...

Fantastic idea: We need to break through the lie that cars are safe.

Stefanv said...

Hey Mikael

maybe I'm just naïve, but personally I don't think it's a good idea to start a campaign against cars. Sure, you're pointing out the dangers, but in essence this is a negative campaign.

Bond Beter Leefmilieu, where I work, has released press releases against all things cars on numerous occassions.

Consequence is that you get the entire car loving community on your back. And instead of creating sympathy for bicycles, you only harvest hate against yourself - and by consequence everything you stand for, hence also against bicycle culture.

So yeah, I a understand Just A cyclist in his comment.

Mikael said...

now this idea isn't one to be brought upon by society by cycling groups - THAT would cause animosity.

The idea is that governments implement the warnings, like they have done with cigarettes.

No mention of bicycles or public transport, just pure public awareness that cars kill, in a variety of ways.

Stefanv said...

Aha, I missed that point.

In that case I would suggest to narrowing it down to city centres.

Just like you have the whole controversy - here anyways - about smoking in bars and/or restaurants.

I think too many people still have no choice but to depend on their cars for long distance trasnportation.

bicilibre said...

I postulated this years ago in a post in my old blog in which I analized a car ad and the subtle push in it towards bicycle segregation:

Mikael said...

great minds think alike.

Anonymous said...


Mikael said...

Bullshit meaning what? That cars don't kill? Don't pollute?

sanjay said...

If You Have A Passion For Driving And You Want To Know The Best Tips Of Driving(Cars, Bikes, Cycles, Cruises, Planes n Many More..), Start Driving With Us....
Visit Us At --

Race Is Going On For Racers...

Anonymous said...

Think in terms of behaviors. You control your own safety. Your car doesn't care whether you live or die. Neither does your bicycle. Neither the car nor the bike cares whether you take down a pedestrian.

So rather than fight a losing battle to make car drivers feel some sort of diffuse guilt (thanks, I already have a mother in law!), why not remind everyone -- motorist, cyclist, pedestrian, whatever -- to watch out for both his own safety and that of others.

Civility. It's the only long-term solution.

Anonymous said...

According to a survey released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, fewer Americans are drinking and driving, but one in six drivers are driving while on drugs during the weekend. The data was released on Monday from a survey conducted in 2007....

http://www.IdiotsTrafficSchool.com http://www.FreeTryTrafficSchool.com http://www.DummiesTrafficSchool.com

Daniel Sparing said...

[I am obviously answering to a very old comment but unfortunately i can only see the time, not the date of comments.]

Between this 1.5 spams before me, Anonymous says "why not remind everyone -- motorist, cyclist, pedestrian, whatever -- to watch out for both his own safety and that of others."

So how fair it is to give 80% of public space in most developed cities to a very inefficient way of transport, and then try to be egalitarian and then say to cyclists, whatever, to watch out for "his own safety"?

It is much more reasonable, in fact, to have a legal system (like in some countries) where the weaker road user (pedestrian, then cyclist, then car and finally heavy goods vehicles) is always right.

We are not equal, after all! Some take up more space, some pollute more, some are more dangerous. Sorry.

Vanessa Carpenter said...

I am still relatively new to Denmark, only been here 3 years, but lived my entire life in car-happy Vancouver. The very first thing I notice here is that people are terrified to drive. It is not second nature like it is 'back home', people drive horrifically, they are terrified of cyclists and pedestrians, of turning left, of traffic, which you might think causes them to be more safe but it does just the opposite, causing them to question their every maneuver and jerk around (literally). There are good drivers, or people like myself who have been driving for 12 years, not 2 or 3.

The problem that the good drivers have is the cyclists (and note: I ride my bike 4 days a week, 12km to work and then in the city and drive only when I need to). Many of the cyclists you see have never driven before and it's obvious. They run red lights when there are huge lines of cars waiting to turn right, they slowly meander along when a car is waiting to turn left, and without judging the traffic situation around them at all, idly stop and effectively prevent the car from turning left, although there are no other bicycles or cars, save for this one wandering soul. They have NO awareness of cars and no respect for them. They drive without lights on at night, wearing all black and are surprised when they cannot be seen in the dark. They are arrogant and ignorant.

What does all this have to do with "Driving Kills"? Everyone kills. Pedestrians who step out on the curb while texting on a red light kill. Cyclists who think they are indestructible and have no respect for traffic rules kill. Drivers who are terrified of the two above mentioned groups and can't drive well, kill. These advertisements do nothing until all three groups are given warnings.

Until then, I will be a traffic aware cyclist, a cyclist/pedestrian aware driver and a confident, un-shaky driver at that. I urge others to do the same!

icummings said...

I love the post and will have to see if I can get some stickers made for my wife's car (I ride). I totally agree with the sentiment that people do not realise how dangerous their car usage is to themselves and everyone else around them. The analogy to smoking is an appropriate one and I've also used it.

But Vanessa says it the best. The fact is that what-ever your mode of transport you have to be considerate of other people and understand what it is like to "drive/walk in their shoes." When I'm walking I'm conscience of bikes. When I'm on the bike I'm an aggressive fast on-road cyclist but I watch out for peds and try not to get in cars way more than I have to. And when I'm driving I always "Look Bike" & know when to over-take a bike or not because I understand what the bike is likely to be going to do next and what I can do without affecting their safety.

Anonymous said...

What absolute bullshit.

Cars are the same as virtually everything else in existance - they have potential to cause harm if used inappropriately. I cycle about 140 miles a week. I also love driving and the only conflict between the two are from the blinkered members of society who want to ban anything they don't like.

Daniel Sparing said...

@Anonymous: labelling someone's opinion "absolute bullshit" and posting anonymous do not belong to useful conversations. Maybe they should be banned.

You are right, virtually everthing in the world has upsides and downsides. The topic in case of cigarettes, driving and cycling is rather the _amount_ of advantages, disadvantages and the comparison of them. Because that conversation makes more practical sense.

Frank Kelly said...

Great idea, health waring labels, but before that happens there has to be a change in the journalism and attendant advertising that promotes cars as desirable, sexy, racey, cool and fun. This weekend in the Toronto Star newspaper, its weekly "Wheels" section broke a record ... a whopping 40 pages (usually between 30 and 40) of "journalistic" reviews of cars an and advertising. Car fetishism gone mad. Don't get me wrong, I love sex, but not with a ton of metal, plastic and rubber.

Jon said...

Genius - love it!

leftiejenessie said...

Bristol Traffic, hi-viz vests are the coolest. We cyclists wear them. Wait, saying hi-viz vests are the coolest perpetuates driving. Let me make a qualification: hi-viz vests are cool when you're biking, but not if you're inside a car.