Memory Lane Turns Tragic in This Beautifully Made Road Safety Ad

When old terrain becomes unfamiliar

The French Road Safety Organization's latest ad opens with road scrolling by as though we're driving along it. The voice that breaks the wind is cracked and young, the wispy, shoegazey voice of bookish boys in teen movies: "This road. This is the road of our childhood, with Pierre and Yanis." 

What follows is melancholy and familiar. As the narrator reminisces, we see children playing along that long strip, and an old schoolbus. We see kids playing soccer, a tentative first kiss by a shed. We all have a road like this—one we know with the intimacy of thousands of passages across. These memories are near-universal, could as easily be happening now as then.

"We were kings of this road," the narrator recounts. "I know each detail here, every line, every bump." 

Of course, this is a road safety PSA, so things aren't going to end well. DDB Paris, which created the work, titled "The Road of My Life," crosses from nostalgia to the underworld without undue alarm. 

The narrator himself expresses no surprise; he reflects with the soft bemusement of someone still in a state of shock. "But tonight … tonight I don't recognize this road. I come for Pierre and Yanis, hoping that it's not too late." 

This is also when we see him for the first time—an emergency firefighter, wearing the look of someone who is indeed gazing at something as if seeing it, truly, for the first time. 

"The roads we know by heart are often the ones that kill us," the film ends. 

It coincides with an NHTSA report that about 52 percent of accidents occur within a five-mile radius of home. That figure rises to 69 percent when you merely double that radius. In France, 1,900 people die yearly on roads they know. 

These are facts people learn in drivers ed, but they, too, slip from salience once we're comfortable driving and develop a bored familiarity with the streets that guide us home. We know them as we know ourselves, and that knowledge disarms us: Soon we drive home tired, or a little drunk. Most of the time, nothing happens. In the years I spent commuting, there were some especially late drives home—across freeways, and bridges I knew by heart—that I could not even remember when morning came. 

This is terrifying in retrospect—but again, "The Road of My Life" doesn't illuminate this in a frightening way. As we see the banalities of a life glide past at dusk, we also see the banalities of an accident, the kind of scene any driver has passed more than a handful of times. 

We learn our familiarity is itself the danger. And like that road, whose every bump and turn has become little more than muscle memory, the tiny benchmarks of life that we all share also become unrecognizable with the perspective change that a tragedy brings: Suddenly they are precious and fleeting, as the asphalt that framed them turns strange and grim. 

The work was diffused in mid-February throughout the French market, in cinemas and across digital supports. 

CREDITS

Client: French Road Safety Organization
Agency: DDB Paris
Executive Creative Director: Alexander Kalchev
Creative director: Alexis Benbehe, Pierre Mathonat
Copywriter: Sonia Dos Santos
Art director: Julien Beuvry
Head of TV prod:Corinne Persch
TV Production: Laurie Delahayes
Account executive: Pierre Guengant, Nicolas Kabassakalis
Account director: Andéole Vu Dinh Ba
Associate Managing director: Vincent Léorat
Managing director: Sebastien Genty
Production: Solab 
Directors: Pantera
Executive producer: Nicolas Tiry 
Director of photography: Zack Spiger
Post Producer: FIRM 
Sound production: Maul Productions/Studio5
Délégué interministériel à la sécurité routière: Emmanuel Barbe
Communication director: Laurence Derrien