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Wince on the Plinth or Publicity: Is any kind better than none at all??

September 20, 2009
To Die For...? - Active road safety or discrimination??

To Die For...? - Active road safety or discrimination??

London, England – Sculptor Anthony Gormley’s One & Other project in Trafalgar Square, London is now into its last third. Gormley is randomly selecting a different person for one hour, every hour for 100 days to occupy the empty fourth plinth in the Square. At least two bikers have climbed the dizzying heights to the plinth, but has anything biker positive been achieved by their appearance?

The first appearance of a biker was a bit of a damp squib. The person concerned had hoped to be accompanied by their Harley but the organisers were not keen so a cardboard cut out stood in. No jokes about Harley’s from me, at least we had someone on the plinth and it was about biking.

When I learnt that the 1000 person to stand on the fourth plinth was to be a biker I was overcome with a grin comparable with Alice’s Wonderland Cheshire Cat. So when Joey Brook, a personal injury lawyer and ardent sports bike enthusiast, turned up for her stint I’d hoped for motorcycling positive. I was disappointed.

Joey if you read this please respect my point of view. I respect yours and your right to express it in a public place, but as is my right in a democracy I simple don’t agree with you using your hour on the plinth to promote the Shiny Side Up motorcycle road safety campaign. No doubt as a personal injury lawyer you have reasons for doing so. However it’s my opinion that the picture of you and the ‘To Die For…?” placard, now being used by every anti motorcycling campaign in the UK, will do as harm in the short term and come back to haunt us in the long term.

Why? Well Shiny Side Up is one of a number of road safety campaigns aimed at bikers that users the well know propaganda technique of ‘fear appeal’. Kent and Medway Safety Camera Partnership were first up with the Australian import ‘How Will He Keep Up Now’ featuring alleged bikers in wheelchairs. This was closely followed by the London Road Safety Units ‘Bleeding Biker’ campaign, featuring a motorcyclist bleeding to death after a road crash. This campaign was heavily modified following upheld complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority by a bereaved family supported by motorcycle activists. Modified because the original advertisement was shown in London cinemas. Following it’s running the house lights went up and a woman ran to the front of the auditorium shouting ‘that’s my son’ she was then consoled by a man and led away sobbing. They were actors employed by the agency running campaign. Unfortunately one afternoon a second woman collapsed in tears, her motorcyclist son had only weeks before been fatally injured in crash where he had been the innocent victim.

Not surprising then that considerable numbers of motorcyclists believe these ‘fear appeal’ type campaigns are ineffective, discriminatory and have the side effect of branding motorcycling and scootering as beyond the pale, in safety terms, to the population in general.

Unfortunately ‘fear appeal’ is currently the in vogue campaign type in the UK. We also have smoking, drinking and now drug driving campaigns all based on ‘fear appeal’. Most of these campaigns do have the ‘self-efficacy’ message tagged on the end. That’s the bit that explains how you can clean up your act, after the first segment of the pitch frightens the living c**p out of you over your smoking, drinking etc etc habits. It’s notable that all the motorcycle ‘fear appeal’ campaigns lack this  vital self-efficacy pitch at point of sale, basically the message is you are going to die if you don’t stop the assisted suicide that is riding a bike. As the ‘that’s not going to happen to me’ element then kicks in the whole concept of ‘fear appeal’ and bike safety campaigns needs close examination and questioning.

Shiny Side Up was hawked around by the agency that thought it up for ages before it was taken up progressively by Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and Derbyshire County Councils. Nottingham, Leicester and Derby City Councils, Nottingham police and now the Highways Agency, expect to see ‘To Die For’ on major trunk roads next summer. Fear appeal is an easy sale. It appeals to the ex police and fire offices that make up the road safety partnerships that use it, it makes the elected council members look like they are doing something aggressive, and its managed for them.

It must be said that professional road safety officers have reservations about Shiny Side Up and similar types of campaign, particularly on the long term issues surrounding the use of ‘fear appeal’. It’s a spiral with each campaign having to more shocking than the next as resistance to the shock builds up in the campaign target group. These reservation no doubt stem from motorcycle specific research projects which that show that in the 25 to 35 age group  fear appeal was ineffective in getting over a safety message but that humour was an excellent and long lasting medium.

Shiny Side Up claims that monitoring of routes shows a decline in crashes where the ‘To Die For…?’ signs are used. In light of the huge number of data variables involved and crash transfer issues I remain an open minded sceptic as to the voracity of such claims.

Perhaps the real question is why we must have all this ‘fear appeal’ doom and gloom stuff surrounding biking. It is possible to have positive and effective road safety messages delivered with humour and panache, so can we have those please. After all we are the ones paying for all this via our national and local taxes.

© Back Roads Rider 2009

One Comment leave one →
  1. Barbara Menchaca-Aguilar permalink
    September 24, 2009 9:30 am

    Thank you for this post! Totally agree that the ‘fear factor’ alienates many people and sometimes has opposite effect of having people ‘turn away’ without really understanding the message. I work in field of brain injury rehab, and know the real-life results of not wearing a helmet. We try to teach children when they’re young, on bicycles, how important it is to wear a helmet – I dedicate my hour on the plinth in this manner:

    Cycle Safety and Children: Brainy Bear teches children why it is so important to wear a helmet during “Be Safe Not Scrambled” demonstration.

    Fourth Plinth participant 07.00 on 23rd September, Wednesday dedicates her hour to raise safety awareness with 6 minute presentation.

    ‘Brainy Bear’ demonstrates what happens when both an unprotected egg and an egg protected by a helmet are dropped on the floor of the plinth. The results speak volumes!

    Please visit, leave a message and mouse click “I like this Bit” to help raise awareness of wearing a helmet during activities/sports such as cycling to prevent injury!

    If you’d like any information to help teach children this important information, please email me at


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