Advertising: A wake-up for drivers

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The Independent Online

You know you've got to go, but how? "In his sleep" sounds best. "Warm, comfortable, with his family by his side" is even better. The ideal exit. So that's how they open the commercial: "Tonight John will die in his sleep." John's sleeping head, weirdly green-tinted, is suspended in dark space, like an 18th-century deathmask. John looks like a chunky, middle-class, fortyish Fulhamite, a Will Carling clone. And it's a nice, soothing, Fulhammy sort of voice-over. Obviously something bad is going to happen but you're expecting, oh, a gas escape or whisky overdose, a horrible reminder of a domestic peril.

But when you're looking through the windscreen at that sleeping face, family around him in a cosy green fug, and you know what's going to happen, the only question is about the production values. From then on it's really tight and spectacular. Move to an overhead long shot of the car weaving left towards the motorway crash barrier. From there it looks almost slow, recoverable. But not from the other side of the barrier as it crashes and somersaults, lands on its roof, skids into centre screen and stops there, wheels spinning wildly, exhaust flaring away in the green darkness. There's loud engine noise and the impression of an accelerator pressed to the floor.

A dramatic accident stays with you, the image gets burnt in. Just like a tinted silkscreen. Warhol, whose instincts were nearly always right, knew that. His interest in accidents was both genuine and calculated: he knew that other people were drawn to the reversals of fortune, but wouldn't admit it. The makers of the COI's "Don't drive tired" commercial know it too, though they're not giving us the whole broken doll/severed limbs Warhol indignity-of-death routine. They've done enough to connect a common experience – wooziness while driving, a wobble at the wheel, even a near-ish miss – to a credibly dramatic end. They know the audience will imagine the contents of the squashed tin can for themselves. And they've connected a universal aspiration – going quietly, the "I don't want to be there when it happens" wish – to a marvellously crude irony.

"Don't drive tired," they say. Apparently many do and it's as dangerous as driving drunk. This just might shove it further up the worry list.

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