Will it be the domino theory for Europe’s first law requiring safety warnings in car ads?
Who: The Belgian Government
When: February 2002
With effect from 14 February 2002, new legislation affecting all car advertising in Belgium came into force. Promoted by the Belgian Institute For Traffic Safety, the Act on Advertising for Motor Vehicles requires all motor vehicle advertisements to contain a warning. The warning must state clearly that safe driving is the responsibility of the driver. If an advertisement does not contain the required warning, there is criminal liability. Those responsible for producing the advertisement in question may be prosecuted. Also, if no Belgian concern is named in the advertisement in question, any Belgian entity that was involved in the placement of the advertisement as an intermediary may be prosecuted. The penalties range between fines and terms of imprisonment. The maximum fine for an individual advertisement is €375 (about £220) but this is apparently subject to a multiple of up to 200 depending on how many repetitions there are. In serious cases a term of imprisonment can be handed down ranging between 1 month and a year. All fines are paid over to the Belgian Institute For Road Safety. So far as the warning message itself is concerned, the required wording has yet to be laid down. This will be done by way of subordinate legislation, so for the moment Belgian car advertisers should make hay while the sun shines!
Why this matters:
For some years now, there has been a growing head of steam behind Europe- wide regulations controlling car advertising. A particular concern of the regulators has been a supposed link between advertising which focuses on the performance of a car and road traffic accidents. European motor manufacturers have already signed a pledged not to over-emphasise speed in their advertising, but this is the first time that a European state has introduced legislation of this kind.
With the UK's own Department For Transport and the Regions expressing similar concerns, and Advertising Standards Authority taking an increasingly restrictive line on how cars and their specifications can be pictured and described in advertising, there has to be a significant danger that the Belgian example will be followed in the UK and maybe elsewhere in Europe.
Acknowledgements: marketinglaw thanks European Advertising Lawyers' Association colleague Jan Ravelingien of Marx, Van Ranst, Vermeesch & Partners in Brussels for his help in writing this report. (firstname.lastname@example.org)