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SD Reminds Drivers, 'The Grim Reaper Rides Shotgun'

South Dakota is second in the nation for distracted-driving accidents by motorists under age 19, which is one group at which the "Jim Reaper" ads are aimed.  (pixabay)
South Dakota is second in the nation for distracted-driving accidents by motorists under age 19, which is one group at which the "Jim Reaper" ads are aimed. (pixabay)
February 9, 2018

PIERRE, S.D. – South Dakota's television ad that portrays the Grim Reaper as a driver's conscience was so popular when it debuted during last week's Super Bowl that at least eight similar ads are already planned.

In the commercials, "Jim Reaper" is dressed in black, carries a scythe and tries to get drivers to do unsafe things – from not wearing seat belts or motorcycle helmets, to becoming distracted or drinking and driving.

At the end of each commercial, the Reaper's plans are foiled when the driver does the right thing. South Dakota Office of Highway Safety Director Lee Axdahl says the message is designed to reward drivers for positive behavior.

"No matter whether you get behind the wheel in a car or pickup truck, or jump on a motorcycle, death is always riding with you,” he says. “There's a very fine line between arriving safely at your location, or doing something that would trigger a catastrophic event."

National statistics show South Dakota had the nation's fourth lowest motor vehicle fatality rate in 2016, but young men in their teens and 20s make up a disproportionate number of those deaths.

Axdahl says the Super Bowl ad was intended to reach that specific group.

"Super Bowl ads on South Dakota television stations do cost quite a bit of money,” he says. “But you're reaching young male adults – and that's your target audience, the young male adult. No matter if you live in Minnesota, Iowa or South Dakota, that's the target demographic."

According to Axdahl, "Jim Reaper" will be featured in a summer ad reminding Sturgis Motorcycle Rally attendees how easy it is to become a statistic.

He says that's often because driving in South Dakota and other rural states can present unique challenges.

"You may be driving on 20 miles of gravel in certain parts of the state to just go get groceries and the odds of you meeting somebody else on that road are pretty slim,” he says. “So, people naturally think, 'I don't have to wear a seat belt; maybe I can speed up a little bit; maybe I don't need to pay quite as much attention to what's going on.'"

A report last year listed the state as second in the nation for distracted driving accidents by motorists under age 19.

Roz Brown, Public News Service - SD