European Car Advertisers Face Compulsory Safety Warnings

12 March 2002

Tobacco-style health warnings are on the cards for cars advertised within the European Union if a law, recently enacted in Belgium, rolls out across other EU member states.

The Belgian parliament passed the new law in the hope of reducing the number of injuries and deaths caused by its citizens’ lethal driving style. But although the legislators have yet to spell out the wording or size/duration of the safety messages, advertisers, agencies and the plethora of self-governing industry watchdogs are already up in arms.

The new law may compel them to moderate card ads’ emphasis on excitement or adventure – emotions beloved by agency creatives. And it will certainly demand the sacrifice of costly seconds of a commercial’s running time to cautionary messages. Failure to comply with the law could lead to eye-watering fines or up to a year’s imprisonment.

The guardians of Europe’s voluntary ad codes are aghast at the threat. Britain's Advertising Standards Authority is “certainly opposed to further legislation,” according to legal director Marina Palombo. “It's not required, we have a good self-regulatory system here that works and our code has a section on motoring," she insisted. “Although such moves are well-intentioned, consumers don't want masses of flytape at the end of commercials”.

The move could also result in “a levy on the advertising industry”, according to advertising and marketing law consultancy Lawmark. “There is a danger that people will see advertisements as vehicles for communicating socially desirable messages. That’s not really its purpose,” warns partner Philip Circus.

Brinsley Dresden, a member of the European advertising lawyers' association, said he expected advertising bodies and car manufacturers to campaign heavily to prevent the new law from snowballing.

Data sourced from: and BrandRepublic (UK); additional content by WARC staff