Things We Don’t Need to be Told

On Pointless Government Advertising

Cropped Old Traffic Light, by Spushnik, with Creative Commons licenceSome things we just don’t need to be told. We learn them in kindergarten or pick them up effortlessly in everyday life. I’m sure you can think of a few – tying your shoelaces perhaps, or learning how to eat. They’re not hard, and pretty much common sense anyway. Like crossing the street safely. But wait . . . do you really know how to cross the street? Here in Hong Kong the government thinks you might not.

Out shopping the other day I heard a Road Safety Council advertisement on the radio. No big deal – that sort of thing happens all around the world. But this wasn’t a campaign based on scare tactics or even practical advice. It just told me that if I was smart I’d already know how to cross the road at traffic lights.


Sleepy Eye Airline Radio, by the Rocketeer, with Creative Commons licenceSo what was I missing? I looked around to see if anyone was playing a practical joke. But the radio continued, explaining what the little green and red men really symbolise. No, really, I’m not kidding. Here, listen yourself.

Now that clears everything up, doesn’t it? Remember it next time you’re out – it might save your life.

Or not. I’m sure you already knew. When did you learn to follow traffic signal instructions? At 3 or 4? Your parents probably taught you, or maybe a teacher. I remember Hector the Cat on Australian television telling me to look both ways before crossing the road. Okay, so a giant cat isn’t really credible, but it was sensible advice nevertheless. Here he is in one of his later incarnations.

A little long-winded, perhaps, but notice he didn’t have to explain traffic signals? Green and red are a fairly universal stop/go combination. And the fact that the little man seems to be walking might also be an clue.

But being clueless might well be a defining characteristic of whoever designed the Hong Kong government’s road safety campaign. Its name? Hong Kong’s Aim: Zero Traffic Accidents.

LThe Traffic Light Tree, by diamond geezer, with Creative Commons licenceocal humorist Nury Vittachi has voted the campaign the dumbest around. Why? Because no accidents in a traffic congested city of almost 7 million people is as close to impossible as it gets. Oh yes, and the campaign’s been running since 2004. Not much success yet.

The Hong Kong government likes to think it can do the impossible, but not this time. Unless you include thinking we really are all dumb. Ironic that, but maybe it’s the whole point. Who can tell? It’s a puzzling world.


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