Scare them silly. Shoot a horror movie that’s meant to shock them into being safer on bikes (wear a magic hat, bike helmets protect your head when you’re hit by a speeding car) and how not to cross the road (listen to an iPod, get squashed, it’s your own stupid fault).
This is the gist of the Ghost Street campaign. I’m sorry to say this web campaign, and the DVD for schools that goes with it, is from my neck of the woods. What were they thinking? ‘They’ being Newcastle City Council. Why create a website riddled with victim-blaming material backed up with no evidence?
UPDATE [10th March 2011]: Newcastle City Council has now taken down the badly-researched material on the Ghost Streets website and replaced it with…nothing. The site is now password protected, and the links in this piece no longer work.
I now have the Freedom of Information request info so can report the video cost £12,000 to produce, with 100 DVDs sent out to schools.
Dene Films got the cash. This outfit is top-notch and would probably normally charge much more than this for a film of this quality. The editing, the graphics, everything about the film, was high-quality but the website was awful. The thrust of the campaign might have been to shock kids into paying more attention on the roads, but the most likely outcome would be that kids would want to get behind the “protection” afforded by cars as soon as possible.
Newcastle City Council said the film’s genre and plot was suggested by kids. This appears not to be the case. According to a promo video by Dene Films, the horror scenario was suggested by Dene Films. Chris Chapman, writer and producer at Dene Films said: “It wasn’t going to be horror it was going to be a talking heads documentary… We knew we wanted to pitch a drama. We knew we wanted to tell a story that was gruesome.”
Vlog 01 – Ghost Street Revisited from Dene Films on Vimeo.
“Traffic is the biggest cause of accidental death of 12 to 16-year-olds.”
No, traffic is not a killer, it’s speeding, inattentive motorists that do the killing. And let’s get rid of this word: “accidental”. Instead of “accident”, use “incident” or “crash”. 99 per cent of road deaths are avoidable. It’s not an “accident” when motorists speed along urban roads at many MPH above posted limits. It’s not an “accident” when motorists overtake in stupid places or miscalculate gaps.
“Research has found that teenagers are easily distracted on the roads.”
Sure they are. And they need to be made more aware of the potential danger of such inattention. But the Ghost Street campaign will have one major result: it will make teens want to drive, to be “protected”.
The imagery for the campaign is illuminating. The markings for the dead body image – above – are on a pavement. Motorists don’t just kill kids on the roads, they kill them on pavements, too. No amount of pedestrians “paying attention” and wearing light-coloured clothing will prevent drivers from mounting kerbs and killing people.
Newcastle City Council ought to be spending money on restraining drivers, not scaring pre-drivers into getting drivers’ licences as soon as they possibly can.
Teens want to drive for a whole load of reasons, similar to the reasons most people want to drive, but why give them such a strong and gory reason to withdraw from the streets?
While the campaign is aimed at 11-16 year olds, there is a driving section but on here there’s nothing urging motorists to pay attention to the road ahead and not use mobile phones when driving.
Teenage motorists text and drive too fast. The motoring section of the Ghost Streets campaign is extremely weak.
I’ve put in a Freedom of Information request to get answers to the following questions:
1. What is the budget for the Ghost Streets campaign?
2. How much money did Dene Films get for the Ghost Streets video?
3. How many DVDs were produced for the campaign?
4. How much did it cost to produce these DVDs?
5. How many DVDs are expected to be sold?
6. What research was carried out to ascertain whether this campaign would be effective at changing the behaviour of the intended audience?
7. Are there any plans for follow-up monitoring of this campaign?
I should hear back within 20 days and will reveal the answers here. [In the meantime, Newcastle City Council’s Head of Highway Network and Traffic Management has given a lengthy rebuttal of the points above – see below the press release).
The campaign’s press release is quite the horror story:
Welcome to Ghost Street
A spooky new film is about to give teenagers in Newcastle a supernatural lesson on road safety.
The film aimed at 12 – 16 year olds, will be shown around schools in Newcastle to raise awareness of road safety and influence teenagers behaviour to use safety advice as part of their everyday life.
The film follows Tabby, your average and seriously distracted teenager. Living in a world of mp3 players, gossip and mobile phones until her distraction costs her dearly. Tabby finds herself trapped in an other-worldly place, a deathly-silent street until the ghosts come out to play.
Each gory character has met their end on the same street throughout the decades and each has a lesson to learn from the road.
Skater-boy – should have looked before he skated onto the road.
Olivia – an 80s throwback who wished she wore a helmet the first time she rode her new bike.
Rebecca – a pregnant teenager who should have worn a seatbelt.
Commissioned by Safe Newcastle and the City Council’s Road Safety Department, Ghost Street is to be used in schools across Newcastle as part of a lesson plans.
Cheryl Ford, Newcastle City Council’s road safety services officer, said: “Teenagers naturally expect independence. They travel on their own or with friends more than they used to and are confident that they know what to do around roads and traffic. In fact, they over-estimate their road skills.
“We targeted teenagers for our film as research shows that around 14 years-of-age is the best chance to influence young people’s future behaviour.
“Teenagers love a good scary film and Ghost Street has plenty of creepy characters and plenty of gore to keep them hooked.”
Safe Newcastle asked the Youth Parliament to be involved in the commissioning of the film.
Cllr Anita Lower, Chair of Safe Newcastle, said “Who better to decide on what type of film we produce than the target audience themselves.
The Youth Parliament discussed the issues that affect them as pedestrians and this formed the basis of the messages in the film. They were very excited by the idea of Ghost Street and felt that a thrilling fictional story would engage them more.
“Previous road safety films have raised the bar in what’s expected from this type of educational film and I think Ghost Street meets this level.”
Chris Chapman, of Dene Films, wrote and produced Ghost Street, said: “We had tremendous fun making the film but always had a focus on the serious nature behind the film. The young cast worked tirelessly in some testing conditions and the make-up team brought each character to life in wonderful grisly detail. We wanted to create a fictional drama that young people would enjoy watching and were going to remember for a long time.”
Ghost Street – Response from Newcastle City Council.
Newcastle City Council places great value on feedback from the cycling community and other partners working hard to improve road safety and, as a listening council, we welcome your input.
Ghost Street is a multi-award winning educational resource designed by school children for school children. It is intended to provoke discussion around road safety and raise awareness of all aspects of road safety.
Since its launch in 2009, the film has been welcomed by every secondary school in the North East region, each of whom has demonstrated its support for the project by purchasing a copy for their lesson plans. Many of them have commented on how well their classes have responded to the discussion part of the lesson.
The film is designed to be seen in totality and we feel that judgments made on very short clips – some as short as a few seconds – taken out of context can be unrepresentative and misleading.
Do you feel it is fair to condemn a film after watching 12 seconds of it?
We would also like to stress that Newcastle is the most active council in the North East in respect of actively supporting and promoting cycling – last year, for example, we trained 3,500 school children in cycle proficiency as part of out ongoing commitment. But we are doing much more than that.
Here are some further points you might wish to take into consideration when coming to a conclusion about the film.
Ghost Street is based on an idea by the Local Youth Parliament who decided that a fictional story with a ‘supernatural’ theme would engage them more than a standard ‘safety’ film would.
Ghost Street is not intended to be viewed as a standalone film. That is why it is only available to schools delivering road safety lesson plans.
The film is part of wider road safety package, which includes a discussion session afterwards. To aid the discussion, teachers have the full support and guidance from their local Road Safety Officer.
Ghost Street carefully covers most scenarios of road safety including speeding, seatbelts, walking and cycling.
All facts and figures were provided by THINK! Road Safety.
Road Safety GB has endorsed Ghost Street and have supported the national roll out of the package.
Ghost Street has received several awards/award nomination:
IVCA Awards 2010 (Bronze medal for best original music, sound design, script)
Royal Television Society 2010 (Best drama, director, newcomer)
New York Festival Award 2011 (Nominated for best short film)
Newcastle City Council’s commitment to sustainable transport
We fully advocate safer walking and cycling in Newcastle and this enthusiasm is reflected in Newcastle City Council’s Sustainable Transport Programme Strategy and part of our ethos for School Travel Plans which has 100% approval from the Department for Education and Skills.
We have welcomed the constructive comments around making our website clearer so that readers can get a sense of the wider context and we will certainly make efforts to put this right.
We value you contribution as part of the debate and welcome any future comments you have to make about road safety.
Head of Highway Network and Traffic Management
Newcastle City Council.