Toronto (Sept. 26, 2005) - Researchers at the University Health Network discovered that almost half of all North American automobile commercials surveyed portray an unsafe driving sequence, with safety promotion messages present in only 12 per cent of them.

Out of 250 automobile commercials reviewed, researchers found that 45 per cent had an unsafe driving sequence, with aggressive driving accounting for 85 per cent of these unsafe driving sequences. An unsafe driving sequence was defined as aggressive or inattentive driving. These results were published in a study entitled Unsafe Driving in North American Automobile Commercials, which appeared the September, 2005 edition of the Journal of Public Health by Drs. John Granton, Philip C. Shin, David Hallett, Mary L. Chipman, and Charles Tator.

The study set out to identify the prevalence and types of unsafe driving that are depicted in automobile commercials, as well as the safety messages and promotions, and written disclaimers. Types of safety promotion include mentions of safety features and safety awards won, while written disclaimers indicated that driving sequences were filmed in controlled conditions, or that professional drivers performed the driving. Three independent raters assessed all English language automobile and truck commercials airing nationally on major broadcast and cable networks in the U.S. or Canada during January or July between 1998 and 2002 (one summer month and one winter month were selected to see if there were differences in commercials between seasons).

Consumer and Safety associations have long been concerned about the prevalence of aggressive driving in automobile commercials and the influence they have on consumer driving behaviour; this is one of the first studies to systematically evaluate the aggressiveness portrayed in automobile commercials. The authors state that given the economic and public health concerns, this finding seems to be in conflict with responsible advertising.

"Given that automobile crashes are the leading cause of death in young adults and the prevalence of unsafe driving sequences portrayed in ads, it could be concluded that ongoing portrayal of aggressive driving is not only in conflict with responsible advertising, but also, from a societal perspective akin to showing the glamour of teenagers smoking," says Dr. Granton, Director, Pulmonary Hypertension Program, Toronto General Hospital, University Health Network; Program Director Critical Care Medicine, University of Toronto.

In 2002, there were 6.5 million Motor Vehicle Crashes (MVCs) resulting in almost 45,000 deaths and 3.5 million injuries in Canada and the United States; according to Advocates for Highway Safety and Auto Safety, driving at a high speed is often cited as contributing to MVCs. In Canada, it is estimated that the total economic cost of MVCs is between $7.5 – 20 billion annually.  Additionally, MVC patients may need to be treated in an emergency department, critical care unit, or require long-term rehabilitation.

"We know that aggressive driving is on the rise in North America and there are an estimated 3.5 million injuries annually resulting from MVCs. Surviving a MVC doesn't mean you'll fully recover, in fact, brain and spinal cord injuries from a MVC may leave many victims with permanent disabilities affecting speech, vision, movement, cognitive function and behaviour," says Dr. Charles Tator, President, ThinkFirst Foundation of Canada, a national brain and spinal cord injury Prevention Foundation; Neurosurgeon, Toronto Western Hospital; Professor of Neurosurgery, University of Toronto. "The government, auto industry, associations and healthcare providers need to work together and look at ways to promote safe driving if we want to see a decline in these devastating numbers."

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