Graphic Ottawa Road Safety Campaign Ads Withdrawn Amid Controversy

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The upcoming road safety campaign by the city of Ottawa has been met with fierce criticism, leading to the withdrawal of test advertisements centered on jaywalking. Public indignation and concerns raised by council members over the graphic content and inappropriate messaging prompted this step.

One of the contested ads presented a chilling image of an injured pedestrian sprawled on the ground, with an eerie caption, “You jaywalked to save time. But you lost it. Forever. Cross only where it is safe.”

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Ottawa city councillors acted swiftly, calling for the immediate removal of this disturbing ad. Sean Devine and Ariel Troster were among those who found the ad and its message distasteful. Troster even approached the staff, asking for the ad’s prompt withdrawal.

Troster expressed her disgust via social media, stating, “Road violence is caused by driver negligence or bad street design. Blaming pedestrians for crossing the street wrong is offensive.”

Following the negative reaction, the head of Ottawa’s Public Works Department, Alain Gonthier, announced that the problematic test ads focusing on pedestrians had been withdrawn, due to the contentious usage of ‘jaywalking terminology.’

In a memo to the council, Gonthier clarified the intention behind the road safety campaign – trying a different approach to convey the message and advocate for shared responsibility in reducing road fatalities and injuries, without fixating blame on any individual or group.

Gonthier stated that his department is also evaluating feedback on the test ads and exploring ways to cater to a broader perspective on road safety, rather than solely focusing on vulnerable road user behavior.

Gonthier ensured that the city would review the ads once more on Monday to determine if they had collected enough research data from other test ads to develop the comprehensive road safety campaign.

In the lead up to the fall official safety campaign, the city had launched 18 test advertisements. Four ads were solely dedicated to pedestrian safety. Gonthier defended these pedestrian ads, arguing that they formed a part of a behaviour change drive focusing on all road users.

Regardless of the controversy, Gonthier firmly stood by the graphic visuals, sharing that they were intended based on the city’s collisions data on fatalities and severe injuries, with an utmost goal of reducing these numbers to zero.

Gonthier also pointed out that the initial reaction had been primarily focused on the pedestrian jaywalking ads, but they have similar ads addressing driver behaviour, as the data supports that.

As per statistics shared by Gonthier, pedestrians are involved in 25 per cent of all fatal and significant injury collisions on Ottawa’s roads.

Ottawa’s Road Safety Action Plan targets cutting down fatal and major injury collisions by 20 per cent by 2024, aspiring for no fatal and major injury collisions in the long term.

The city’s last road safety report in 2020 revealed 27 pedestrian deaths in collisions from 2016 to 2020. During the same period, there were 56 drivers, 17 vehicle passengers, 20 motorcyclists and 10 cyclists fatalities.

Among 18 test ads, 14 were focused on educating driver behaviour. For instance, one such ad showed a wounded pedestrian on a damaged car windshield under an impactful caption, “You drove impaired this one time. But you killed mine. Don’t drive under the influence.”

Promoting careful driving around cyclists, another ad portrayed an injured cyclist lying by a vehicle, captioned “I love my cycling time. But you killed it. Forever. Check your blind spots.”

Despite the controversy, the city of Ottawa is proceeding with its social media test ad campaign to ensure driver, pedestrian and cyclist safety.