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'A disgusting example': Road Safety Authority sent dozens of complaints over L-driver ad campaign

The ad warning learner motorists not to drive unaccompanied began airing in December.

Source: RSA Ireland/YouTube

THE ROAD SAFETY Authority claims it would be failing in its duties if it discontinued an ad campaign in which learner motorists are warned about the dangers of driving alone.

Records released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal how the authority was sent dozens of complaints during the first month that an ad about the so-called ‘Clancy Amendment’ aired on television.

The ad was produced by the RSA for €327,490, following the introduction of new laws on unaccompanied drivers as part of the Road Traffic Amendment Act in December.

It features Cork man Noel Clancy, whose wife Geraldine and daughter Louise were killed in an accident involving an unaccompanied learner driver in December 2015.

Their deaths led to the introduction of laws that make it an offence for vehicle owners to allow unaccompanied learner or unlicensed motorists to drive their cars.

In the ad, Clancy revisits the scene of the accident and describes how his wife and daughter were killed, and recalls a conversation he had with an undertaker about their burial.

“They were trapped upside down, screaming for their lives as they drowned in the water,” he says, adding that he did not realise Geraldine or Lousie were involved in the accident when he happened to arrive on the scene.

The learner driver involved in the accident, Susan Gleeson, was subsequently given a three-year suspended sentence.

A spokesman for the RSA told TheJournal.ie that as well as the production fee, almost €270,000 was spent to have the ad broadcast on television and in cinemas in the first month that it aired.

‘Out of order’

The authority released the transcripts of 34 complaints it received from members of the public about the ad, one of which compared the campaign to “Nazi propaganda”.

A large number of complainants expressed sympathy for Gleeson, and asked whether the authority had considered the impact that the ad would have upon her.

“I feel that girl’s pain every time the add [sic] is run… she has to live with the consequences of this for the rest of her life,” wrote one member of the public.

Another said: “I feel huge empathy for the family who lost [their] wife/daughter but not sure this line of behaviour helps the healing of such loss.

“She didn’t set out to ruin their life or her own,” said yet another.

Unfortunately that happened, and I believe your add [sic] drives another nail in her heart. Do you really need to do that? How many other people are being hurt repeatedly by your add [sic]?

Many also questioned whether the Road Safety Authority had considered how the advert would affect Gleeson psychologically.

“Can you imagine the psychological damage it much [sic] be inflicting on the driver of the car?” asked one complainant, who added that the ad was a “step too far”.

“Why not forgive and let this girl live her young life in peace?” asked another. “Two wrongs do not make a right.”

Other complainants called the ad “cruel”, “grossly insensitive”, “depressing”, “a disgusting example of an ad”, “a disgrace”, “completely out of order”, “tactless”, “punitive”, “gravely unethical” and “despicable”.

Many complainants called for the ad to be removed, with one saying:

I feel your advert for unaccompanied Learner drivers has got its message across – perhaps it could have been explained using a fictional occurrence. Time to switch it off.

Public interest

But despite the complaints, the Road Safety Authority vowed to continue screening the ad, saying it had a duty to inform the public about the “high risk” nature of learner motorists driving unaccompanied on Irish roads.

An RSA spokesman told TheJournal.ie that the authority consulted with the Gleeson family directly and consulted with their solicitor before the ad aired.

The spokesman confirmed that while some minor amendments were made to the ad following requests from the Gleeson family, a formal response was sent via their solicitor to confirm that they had no objection to it being aired.

The spokesman also said the advertisement was in the public interest, as it delivered an important message that could help save lives and reduce injuries.

“It is certainly not our intention to upset people, especially those who have been directly affected by a road tragedy,” the spokesman said.

However, from years of dealing with victims, their families and victim support groups, they have told us that it is absolutely necessary to tell their stories so that people understand the reality of what’s happening on the roads, and more importantly, that others do not go through the tragedy that they have had to experience.

According to RSA statistics, an average of 12 learner drivers – the majority of whom are unaccompanied – are involved in fatal collisions on Irish roads every year.

It claims that similar provisions to the ‘Clancy Amendment’ have already proven successful in Northern Ireland, where learner drivers are almost never involved in fatal collisions.

The spokesman added while that while the authority was aware of the sensitivities involved in the case involving the Clancys and Susan Gleeson and that the RSA did not want to stigmatise learner drivers, it felt the impact of driving unaccompanied was clear.

“We do not wish to ever see another Noel Clancy. And nor do we want to see another unaccompanied driver involved in another such fatal crash,” the spokesman said.

“No-one should ever have to go through either side of such a desperately needless tragedy ever again.”

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