Safety ads not a sign of a nanny state, just one that cares

I wish I was not in the ad. Like me, the other participants also wished they were not in the Don't Rush advertisements conceived by the Australian Medical Association and the Roads and Maritime Services. It was particularly true for the two crash victims Lyn Bell and James Archer.

I wish I was not in the ad. Like me, the other participants also wished they were not in the Don't Rush advertisements conceived by the Australian Medical Association and the Roads and Maritime Services. It was particularly true for the two crash victims Lyn Bell and James Archer.

I wish I was not in the ad. Like me, the other participants also wished they were not in the Don't Rush advertisements conceived by the Australian Medical Association and the Roads and Maritime Services. It was particularly true for the two crash victims Lyn Bell and James Archer.

So, why am I in the ad? As a doctor I often witness devastating injuries and tragedy. In 2010, after a spate of terrible accidents in which several children died, despite our best efforts, and others experienced severe head injuries resulting in lifelong disability, I wanted to do something to reduce the carnage on our roads. I approached the government and asked how I could help.

I have no words to describe the grief of the parents who survived the crashes that claimed the lives of their children, but those images stay with me. No parent should ever experience that. All of this was so unnecessary. It was a consequence of good people making bad decisions on the road. I wanted people to make the right decisions and, as the ad says, ''choose wisely''.

I am sure there are similar reasons why Wes Bonny's family felt compelled to tell his story and warn others of the risk of melanoma in a campaign by the Cancer Institute NSW.

Such campaigns are not meant to shock. While they may seem graphic in language, they are nothing compared to the carnage that ambulance officers, police or the fire brigade are confronted with at the scene of an accident, or even what doctors and nurses must treat in our hospitals with monotonous regularity.

Detractors use the term ''nanny state'' to suggest that these campaigns are too intrusive and limit our freedom. The notion that we live in a nanny state is, frankly, nonsense. I have never heard any patient or their relative complain there were too many laws. If anything, doctors hear the exact opposite: patients state that there should have been more done, presumably by governments, to protect them.

We live in a privileged society where we enjoy freedoms of which others can only dream. There is a responsibility on all of us to behave in a way that does not endanger others, especially on the roads. Unfortunately, not everyone can be relied upon to do that.

It is also ignorant to suggest that such campaigns are a waste of taxpayers' money. For instance, in 2006, it was estimated that the economic costs of motor vehicle accidents in Australia was $17 billion or 2.3 per cent of gross domestic product. Prevention of injuries, particularly traumatic brain injuries, makes economic sense.

Economics aside, consider the fact that one-third of deaths in children are due to injury. If these campaigns were not in place, the media would rightly be asking questions of the government about its lack of action.

Anti-smoking campaigns worked. As a result of the Slip, Slop, Slap campaign, attitudes to sun exposure have changed. Children now all wear hats in the playground. Alcohol was a factor in 40 per cent of fatal crashes in 1982 compared to 15 per cent in 2010. The concept of ''one for the road'' was once a social norm but drink-driving is now socially unacceptable. These shifts have come through public campaigns, which are also a major factor in the reduction of the road toll.

Last year, the preliminary NSW road toll was 376. This is the second lowest toll since 1944. It is easy to forget that in 2000 the NSW road toll was 603 and in 1980 was 1303.

Doctors know the value of prevention. But there is a lot more to prevention than advertising and the media. There is also lobbying to improve regulations and standards, such as changing the Australian Building Code to make it harder for children to fall through windows. These measures are designed to make it harder for people to injure themselves but they can only do so much. For instance, pool fences are an important part of preventing drowning in backyard swimming pools. However, these fences must be in good order. Six toddlers drowned in private pools in NSW during 2010. In all cases the pools were fenced but the pool gate or fence was not secured.

Not everyone will listen to every campaign. These campaigns will remind us of our own mortality and vulnerability. But at the end of the day, they are essential. Public health campaigns save lives and prevent injuries. They indicate that we as a society care about each other and in particular about our children. If that is what is meant by a nanny state then I am proud to live in one.

Associate Professor Brian Owler is a neurosurgeon at the Children's Hospital at Westmead and a councillor at the AMA (NSW).

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