Nowhere have I seen such oppressive, in-your-face, roadside driver propaganda as I have here in Australia. Not in Scandinavia, not in the rest of Europe, not in Canada, not in the United States--and not even in Singapore, the nanny state par excellence.

You have to wonder about the effectiveness of a public education campaign where a typical driver can receive one 'impression' every two to three minutes. Most drivers would get desensitized, I would think.

So, for all of you that have been questioning 'can it really be that bad?', I took pictures of every roadside warning sign I saw on the M5 freeway from Liverpool into central Sydney this afternoon. In the 30 minutes, covering about 50km, there were sixteen signs, not counting the three signs warning you to pay your tolls at the tollbooths.

You can see for yourself at


April 24 2002, 08:19:00

You know, those signs don't seem so bad to me.

You do realise that those signs are deliberately trying to sound intimidating, right?

Maybe you have to realise:
1) How much Australians drink (a friggin' lot -- much more than Americans); and
2) How much Australians have a "Fuck you, authority!" attitude.

(Or maybe it's just a matter of what I'm accustomed to.)

Look, if it reduces the road toll, it reduces the road toll. I don't mind some strong advertising in exchange for safer roads and fewer fatalities. It's not like it's asking me to forfeit my civil liberties or anything.

April 24 2002, 09:08:18

Well, I kinda have to agree with Dan in that no one gives a shite about these signs. If these were in the US, they'd be the subject of many comedians. You'd learn to ignore them. It's kind of the situation on Big Brother. You're followed around 24/7 by cameras, but after awhile, you hardly know they're there and then you're going to do whatever you're going to do.

We're pretty cavalier in California... we practically giggle when we see "freeways monitored by aircraft" signs because we KNOW a) there really are no aircraft and b) if you were to be reported by aircraft, the ticket is null and void anyways because they can't detect actual speed, they can only tell ground units that someone is speeding which is hearsay... not admissible in court.

April 24 2002, 09:33:40

The government has been running campaigns like this for a long while, and my understanding is that they do it because the campaigns show tangible results.

I haven't lived in New South Wales, but I assume that those signs aren't up all year round, but just during the occasional campaign blitz.

And I can't imagine a comedian making fun of something related to road deaths. The media does a good job of reminding the public of how tragic it is -- they always report the road fatality rates during happy times like Easter and New Year's. Maybe we're just morbid.

Or maybe they've managed to turn "Let's keep the road tolls down!" into a national pasttime. Australians are pretty sports-obsessed, after all. That would explain why they report the road toll state-by-state. I can just imagine Queenslanders going "Yes! We scored lower than New South Wales!".

In fact, I think I've done that.

April 24 2002, 10:49:34

Comedians here make fun of EVERYTHING. Last night on Jay Leno (the highest rated night time talk show), he says "The Pope has all of the U.S. Cardinals in the Vatican to discuss the problems regarding the child abuse by priests here in the US. Here's a video clip." and it shows old stock footage of men taking measurements of children (like chest, inseam, etc.). It's incredibly tasteless, but we choose to laugh at what is, at heart, abhorrant.

They wouldn't make fun of the road deaths, but they'd make fun of having signs around for every little banal thing that we do. Like they'd mock up signs like "Put your car in Reverse to go backwards" or something like that. For a lot of things like drunk driving, it is a moral choice... signs aren't going to deter you... at least not here. In California, you get the book thrown severely at you for DUI (including losing your car, and your license, up to 6 months in prison, not to mention you'll be paying thousands more per year for your insurance premiums for the next 5 years).

If the signs are seasonal as you said, I think that would be normal. Just like any advertising campaign. But if they were up year round, requiring constant tax dollars to fund their upkeep and such, I'd question their value again.

April 24 2002, 13:36:37

I'm finding Dan and Chris' recent obsession with this quite comical.

April 24 2002, 14:00:17

Part of it is simply to do with perceived freedom in a given society. When you're bombarded by signs telling you not to do things, you start to feel as if you're in an oppressive police state of some kind. After a while, it really gets annoying. One of the joys of living in California, dare I say it, is the feeling of freedom that goes along with driving down a beautiful road next to an amazing stretch of sea, for example; the experience isn't marred by dozens of signs telling you that the government is out to get you.

The Great Ocean Road, for example, would have been a heck of a lot more scenic if you hadn't been reminded incessantly about how Drowsy Drivers Die!, Speed Kills!, etc.

April 24 2002, 14:25:45

I think that on the Great Ocean Road you were spending too much time looking at road signs and not enough signs looking at the beautiful scenery.

April 24 2002, 16:53:59

If Australia really wanted to reduce the road toll, they'd implement closing hours on bars--and raise the drinking age from 18 to 21.

I just find the signs annoyingly intrusive. One sign every 2km on the road? You learn to tune them out--and with them, other public education messages.

I certainly agree with #1: Aussies drink far, far more than Americans. And they drive when drunk, too.

As for #2, I totally disagree. Australians don't despise authority; they just whinge about it, then go along with things. It's the 'she'll be all right, mate', complacent attitude. I can't believe that since I've been here there's been not one but five national scandals... and most people get outraged for a minute or so, then reach for another stubbie or chardonnay.

If Australians really despised authority, they'd ditch compulsory voting in a second... and lower silly taxes like the 50% tax on alcohol, the 5% payroll tax, various Medicare taxes and fees and all sorts of other nickel and dime schemes. Oh, and they'd take better control of their privacy as well--it's amazing how easy it is to perform identity theft and impersonation here. But generally, Aussies don't care that much, because they feel they don't have much control over their government.

April 24 2002, 17:30:17

Wow. You really have gotten to know Australians pretty well.

But the saying is "She'll be right, mate." There's no "all".