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February 25, 2009
Celebrity comedians become backseat drivers for new public service campaign

Teens warned to ‘speak up or else’

OLYMPIA – You’ve never met a backseat driver quite like the ones portrayed by comedians Rachel Harris, Fred Willard and Rob Riggle as part of a new media campaign aimed at reducing youth reckless driving.

The Washington Attorney General’s Office led a coalition of state attorneys general and consumer protection agencies that joined with the Advertising Council to launch the campaign today. The campaign portrays the celebrities as teenage car passengers who speak up to prevent car crashes – the No. 1 killer of teens in the United States for more than two decades.

“The message we’re aiming to get across is that when your buddy is driving like a bat out of hell, you need to speak up,” Attorney General Rob McKenna said of the new campaign that aims to save lives. “Research shows that teen drivers will listen to their friends.”

Harris PSAIn one TV spot, Harris plays a ditzy teen concerned that her driver is paying more attention to the car stereo than the road. “If we die in a car crash, I want to donate my eyes to my neighbor, Gary,” she says with a sarcastic smile and toss of her blonde ponytail.

Another public service announcement features a not-so-youthful-looking Riggle wearing a letterman’s jacket as he tells an off-the-wall story about horses that ends in a threat to his speeding driver. Willard, stretching the teenage image to the extreme, goes even further with his warning to a teen talking on a cell phone: If he dies, he’ll return as a ghost to haunt the boy.

Doug Walsh is chief of the Consumer Protection Division at the Washington Attorney General’s Office and helped oversee the development of the nationwide campaign. Walsh and McKenna each have four children and understand the power of teenage peer pressure.Riddle PSA

“The TV and radio spots are goofy, edgy and out there because that’s what appeals to teens,” Walsh said. “With the addition of celebrities and a novel application for your iPhone, we have all the ingredients for a life-saving viral marketing campaign.”

The PSAs direct audiences to visit, where teens can send instant message videos starring the comedians to their friends. The recipient, expecting a friend to chat, will instead receive a reckless driving video. The site will also include an application that turns an iPhone or iPod Touch into a bullhorn with flashing lights that can be used to inform a friend of his or her reckless driving.

Created pro bono by ad agency Y&R New York, the ads are a continuation of a prevention program that began in January 2007 with a promotion called UR the Spokesperson. Earlier PSAs featured a stereotypical, smarmy, over-the-top spokesperson who appears in the car to deliver safe driving tips. The ads concluded with the message, “There is no spokesperson to prevent reckless driving. There’s only you. Speak up.”

“According to our research, since the launch of the campaign two years ago there has been a significant increase in the proportion of young adults that said they spoke up every time a friend was driving recklessly,” said Ad Council President Peggy Conlon. “I’m confident that this new round of PSAs, featuring comedians that appeal to our target audiences, will continue to raise awareness and inspire teens to ‘speak up’ when they’re in a car and don’t feel safe.”

The Ad Council is distributing the new PSAs to media outlets nationwide this week. Since its launch, the campaign has received more than $44.5 million in donated media cream sign

SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) will be helping to spread the message by reaching out to its 350,000 student members. And the Ad Council will work promote the campaign on social networking sites and blogs.

NHTSA data shows that, on average, more than 300,000 teens are injured in car crashes each year, nearly 8,000 are involved in fatal crashes and more than 3,500 are killed. Research also shows that teen drivers are involved in more than five times as many fatal crashes as adults. Young drivers are more likely to speed, run red lights, make illegal turns and die in an SUV rollover.

Related Links:
Ad Council News Release

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Contacts: Kristin Alexander, Attorney General’s Office, (206) 464-6432,
Ellyn Fisher, Ad Council, (212) 984-1964,

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