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Remember these old road safety films?

Maria McCarthy / 16 December 2016 ( 17 May 2019 )

What do Tufty Squirrel, Alvin Stardust, Joe and Petunia have in common?

An old TV to represent old road safety films

Whether it's drink-driving, hand-held mobile phone use or annoying and dangerous behaviours such as tailgating, there's no doubt that when it comes to some motorists’ driving behaviour there's plenty of room for improvement. 

But what's the best way to bring about change – is it increased levels of road traffic police and harsher penalties? Or could education and raising greater awareness through TV advertising be effective as well?

Public information films shown on TV had their heyday during the 1960s to 1980s. They highlighted issues from understanding the new decimal currency to how to survive a nuclear attack – and of course road safety. Many are available to view online at

The National Archives are guaranteed to bring on a wave of nostalgia for those of a certain vintage.

Tufty Squirrel and Alvin Stardust

Children growing up in the 60s and 70s walked to school and played out on their own more frequently than nowadays and so there were road safety campaigns specifically aimed to help them deal with traffic. 

These films included Tufty Squirrel and his friends, together with The Green Cross Code man aka Dave Prowse, the six foot five actor and bodybuilder who also portrayed Darth Vader in the Star Wars films.

Teenagers, who were perceived as needing 'groovier' role models were offered films featuring Kevin Keegan and Alvin Stardust giving road safety advice.

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Clunk Click Every Trip

Adults were targeted by adverts about the importance of using seatbelts, with the Clunk-Click Every Trip' series presented by the now disgraced Jimmy Saville. The idea was that the 'clunk' of the car door closing should be followed by the 'click' of the seatbelt. 

The films began in 1971 and continued till 1993. Although car manufacturers had been legally obliged to fit seatbelts in vehicles since 1965 it wasn't compulsory to use them until 1983 and the combination of legislation and adverts did make for a significant change in driver behaviour.

Cartoon couple Joe and Petunia featured in several public information films including ones about obeying the country code and alerting the coastguard. But in the film 'Worn Tyres' Joe neglects to check the tread depth and he and Petunia meet an untimely end.

Drink-driving was another important issue that was addressed via public information films, the focus changing from wide boys with bad haircuts being annoyed at losing their licence, such as in the film 'Stupid Git' to ones that emphasised the tragic consequences and fatalities.

Stay safe driving in wet weather

Did the road safety films help?

Neil Greig, policy and research director at IAM Roadsmart remembers The Green Cross Code man from his own childhood. "There weren't very many adverts aimed at children during that time, so I think that's part of the reason why they've stayed in my memory. 

"The road safety films of the 1970s and 80s were very much of their time. Of course they look dated now, but they came at a time when legislation around road safety issues such as seatbelt use and drink-driving was changing. The law was being enforced by road traffic police and the adverts helped raise awareness, so this three-pronged approach was effective."

Road deaths decreased from 7,499 in 1970 to 5,373 in 1989 and it's widely believed that the adverts played an important part, though as they weren't properly evaluated it's impossible to know the true extent of their impact.

"Because there's always a lot of issues going on around road safety – from safer cars to policing levels and education campaigns, it can be difficult to pinpoint what actually brings about effective change," says Neil Greig. "Market research can show whether or not people remember an advert, but not whether it has actually changed their driving behaviour. 

"Having said that, there was an interesting study recently in which a small sample of motorists were shown a video about driving on rural roads created by Think!, the Department for Transport's road safety campaign. A control sample wasn't shown the video and both groups of motorists had black boxes which monitored their driving fitted in their vehicles. The results showed that the group who had watched the video drove more safely on country roads afterwards, which was encouraging."

So will the government respond to this by investing more funds into TV adverts to combat current dangerous driving behaviours, such as using a hand-held mobile at the wheel? "After several years of budget cuts, resources are increasing again at Think! allowing more campaigns on key media such as TV," says Neil Greig.

With the increased emphasis on combating congestion and obesity by encouraging children to walk to school, maybe some of the road safety adverts will be aimed at them lead to the creation of a modern-day version of Tufty or The Green Cross Code that future generations can remember nostalgically. 

Recent road safety films

The trend shows no sign of abating; Cadence, a new film released in November 2016 by the AA addressed the relatively new issue of texting whilst driving - watch it now on youtube

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