DOT’s New Safety Ads: “Look” Doesn’t Flinch

DOT today announced a new slate of public service announcements for its "Look" cyclist safety campaign. As demonstrated in this TV ad, the spots are more graphic — i.e. more realistic — than the previous line-up (though those ads are currently running online as well), and are reminiscent of PSAs we’ve seen from abroad. Reads a DOT press release:

"We are doing everything we can to engineer safer streets, but we need
to do even more to reach motorists behind the wheel, which this
campaign does in a dramatic way," said Janette Sadik-Khan, DOT
Commissioner. "Last year, some 3,000 bicyclists were injured in car
accidents citywide, and too many of these accidents occurred because
drivers and riders simply weren’t paying attention. While the number of
bicycle injuries continues to fall, there’s still no substitute for
simple awareness and attention on the road."

We can’t help pointing out that, as it stands, the crash that injured the victim depicted here probably would not even make the news. The driver, meanwhile, regardless of culpability (assuming drugs or alcohol were not involved), would most assuredly have been allowed to leave the scene in his or her car by now without so much as a summons. But maybe those are topics for another campaign.

The latest round of ads, available here for viewing and downloading, will run through June, and are accompanied by direct mail pieces for city homeowners and drivers license holders.

The "Look" program is a project of the New York City Bicycle Safety
Coalition, which includes DOT, the Department of Health and Mental
Hygiene, NYPD, the Taxi and Limousine
Commission, the Public Advocate’s Office, Transportation Alternatives,
the Five Borough Bike Club, the New York City Bicycle Messenger’s
Association and NY State AAA.

  • I’ve always thought that real video of a motorist in emotional distress upon learning that someone they’ve hit has died or is seriously injured would be a very effective ingredient in any “don’t drive like an asshole” PSA.

  • wow, that was a really good ad.

  • Max

    I worry that it might have more of an effect of scaring people from riding their bike.

  • ed

    Yeah, totally agree. It’s a real fear-monger ad.

  • Agreed, it might do more harm by scaring people from cycling.


    At least it wasn’t a “Wear your helmet or your asking for it” PSA. Thank god for that! The screen still shot for the video had me expecting just that.

    Still not horrifically shocking enough like the Irish PSA “Speed Kills” that I believe I first saw right here on Streetsblog ( Still leaves me shuddering and I didn’t even watch it after finding it on YouTube.

    Also there is this surveillance video out of Jersey City today showing a speeding, hit & run driver, running a red light and critically injuring a pedestrian crossing legally at a crosswalk ( They should throw the book at this homicidal maniac!

  • “The best protection a cyclist has is our attention.”

    If a cyclist’s best protection is indeed “our” attention, then that suggests that “we” don’t bike. Also, I don’t like the cyclist-as-victim message of the ad — I always thought that my best protection was my own awareness. That said, it is kind of nice when drivers are paying attention, too.

  • dporpentine

    “I don’t like the cyclist-as-victim message of the ad”

    –Then what would you like? Cyclist as invulnerable superhero? Cyclist who through sheer willpower (“awareness”) is able to stop people from opening their doors?

    Are you willing to go to the relatives and friends of all the dead or injured cyclists and say, “Hey, if only you’d been a little bit more aware, this wouldn’t have happened.”

    Face it: cyclists are often victims–if that word has any strictly denotative value at all these days.

  • @dporpentine, such vitriol… What I said was merely a variation on what others said before. This ad may keep people from riding their bikes by giving them the impression that they are entirely at the mercy of others.

    What would I like? How about cyclist as equal participant in traffic, entitled to consideration and attention (like everyone else), yet prepared for boneheaded moves of others?

    Of course cyclists are often victims (as are pedestrians, and, indeed, drivers), and I wouldn’t dream of blaming the victim. Regardless of whether the victim may have had a chance to avoid the accident, the blame rests squarely with the one who caused it.

    I’m keenly aware of my own fragility; that’s why I’m thinking of everybody else’s attention as my second line of defense at best.

  • ken

    These ads do not work! People remember the scenarios of the ad but they do not think it applies to them. If they are too graphic people just turn off.

  • I like it!

  • Colin

    This ad will backfire. It will scare people away from cycling, and the resulting lower numbers of cyclists will lead to reduced cyclist safety.

    The way to improve cyclist safety is to encourage more people to cycle, and one way to do that is to reassure people how safe cycling is!

  • ddartley

    I’ve withheld my naysaying, but seeing Colin’s comment up on “word on the street” moves me to chime in and agree with him.

    I don’t think the ad speaks at all to motorists’ obligation to be careful around cyclists. I think most people will see the ad and think “stupid cyclist. his fault for being in the road.”

    IMHO a better PSA would address drivers directly and say something like “we know you might not give a @$#% about cyclists. You still have an obligation to try not to hit any. They’re out there, so LOOK.”

  • is the ad blaming the cyclist for “not looking” or a reckless driver for “not looking”?

    seem to be more the former rather than the latter

  • Ian Turner

    Oscar, I’d say it’s intentionally ambiguous: Looking is “something we all can do”.

  • Sorry I’m late to the discussion …

    I think the ad is awful. Having been tutored by McLuhan to believe that the medium is (usually) the message, I think the negative images about cycling will largely obliterate the intended message. The message will be: don’t cycle.

    It would be so simple to show cyclists in traffic, having to maneuver around and among clueless drivers, and doing so with aplomb. The message, “Cyclists need drivers’ attention” could be overlaid on those images, without the negativity and gruesomeness. Viewers could identify with both cyclists and drivers — which, after all, is what we want.

  • dporpentine

    “Having been tutored by McLuhan to believe that the medium is (usually) the message, I think the negative images about cycling will largely obliterate the intended message.”

    Wow: a pretentious/barely justified use of “tutor” alongside a comical misunderstanding of the “medium is the message” line of McLuhan. (I mean, can anyone who’s seen Annie Hall imagine blithely announcing your ignorance of McLuhan, of all people?) Kinda makes it hard to take your argument seriously.

    But as a thought experiment, let’s try to imagine this better ad you envision. It shows this same cyclist in jeans and t-shirt and blue biking helmet. And he’s . . . what? Getting tailgated? Going around double-parked cars? Having to slam on his brakes when people barely pull ahead of him and turn right? Having to dodge doors? Getting honked at by cars going into the lane in order to avoid getting doored? I think a lot of drivers, looking at what’s happening around the cyclist, would just think something like, “Hey, that’s city driving. Don’t like it? Don’t ride your stupid bike in my roads.”

    And what does urban cycling “aplomb” look like? The cyclist doing all these things quickly–or on sweet fixie? He’s smiley and polite? He catches a flying baby? I think at lot of drivers looking at that would think something like, “Hey, he’s having fun. I don’t have fun when I’m driving. He ought to stay off my roads.”

    What the ad is trying to do is draw attention to bikers’ vulnerability. Most people know this. I always get people telling me they’d be terrified of riding a bike in the city. But they don’t have a detailed sense of what that vulnerability means. This ad is trying to fill in some of those details. I have no idea whether it will do that, but at least I know I have no idea.

  • someone

    @dporpentine – i could not have put it better, especially re. the pretentious reference to marshall mcluhan! bravo! well done!

    oh, and regarding your earlier comment/exchange on “victimization,” i am on your side believing that as negative as that connotation may be, it is a fair price to pay to get the message out there that, indeed, we cyclists are vulnerable without the several tons of steel enveloping our bodies – no matter how much aplomb, skill, sweet sass, or what-the-f-ever one has.

  • Dporpentine — Your thought-experiment might be worth my engaging, but I can’t fight through the vitriol that preceded it.

  • The same ad has surfaced as fodder for the Times’ weekly anticycling column. I enjoy cycling and would like more people to enjoy it as well; I don’t let negative thoughts about my relative flimsiness compared to other road users interfere with an activity I greatly enjoy.

    To me the ad doesn’t adequately connect its viewing with the activity it’s meant to inhibit. The antismoking ads are pretty direct: “Stop smoking or lose your fingers and toes.” These ads don’t even mention reckless driving as something that society should censure.

    I want to see Donte’ Stallworth speaking to the camera, saying, “I drove recklessly, killed an innocent man, lost my job, and went to jail. Pay attention.”


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