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Powerful Northern Ireland road safety TV ads hit by budget cuts

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A scene from one of Northern Ireland's road safety advertisements.

A scene from one of Northern Ireland's road safety advertisements.

A scene from one of Northern Ireland's road safety advertisements.

Northern Ireland's road safety television advertisements, well-known for using shocking imagery to get their message across, have fallen victim to budget cuts.

The advertisements have been widely praised for bringing home the deadly consequences of drink-driving or drinking whilst using a mobile phone.

At a meeting of Stormont's Infrastructure Committee on Wednesday during a briefing on road safety and driver and vehicle regulation, MLAs were told of how millions had been taken out of the budget for the campaigns.

They were told as well as cutting the length of the ads the use of music has been changed from well-known artists to stock tunes.

Head of road safety strategy promotion and outreach at the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) Lynda Hurley said that her budget had been cut from a high of £3million in 2013 to just £700k for the current financial year.

Mrs Hurley told MLAs her budget two years earlier had been £1m.

She said the budget had traditionally been in the £1.5m to £2m region but accepted that "there are budgetary constraints everywhere across our department and other departments".

Mrs Hurley said that as a result of the budget cuts she was forced to rethink the DfI's road safety advertising campaign.

"We looked at some campaigns on television and reduced them in length so we could still get the maximum number of campaigns out with the money available," she explained.

"A lot of those campaigns may have been around 50-60 seconds long with certain music which helped emphasise the message.

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Dolores Kelly

Dolores Kelly

Liam McBurney

"We reduced the campaigns to 30-40 seconds and removed the music and put in library music which doesn't cost the same amount of money to our budget, but the core message of those campaigns are still there."

Mrs Hurley explained that the peak of the funding coincided with the lowest road deaths on record in 2012 when 48 people died.

SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly said insurance companies had an obligation to contribute to road safety campaigns.

Mrs Hurley said in the past the department had been quite successful getting sponsorship from the insurance industry for television ads.

"In recent years it has been very difficult to get insurance companies to sponsor the campaigns, they want a payback guarantee of airtime and how frequently they are going to be on TV and what dividend there is going to be for them," she said.

She clarified that the campaigns were created in advance and sponsorship was sought after, saying the insurance companies had no control over the content of the advertisements.

Mrs Kelly said: "They have no legal or moral obligation it seems, but it might be something worth exploring."

Previous ads have shown an entire classroom of children being killed by a man speeding along a country road, while another showed the slowed down effects of a crash inside a vehicle when not wearing a seatbelt.

Another campaign showed the bereaved loved ones of people killed in road accidents sharing the effect of their loss.

The campaigns date back to the mid-1990s and are well remembered for their graphic content. They originally fell under the remit of Stormont's old Department of the Environment.

Belfast Telegraph