"Sam looks like he's sleeping, but he's not," a woman narrates. "He's not thinking. He's not breathing. He's dead."
The camera slowly pans out to reveal first responders arriving at a staged accident scene. The boy was killed, the narrator says, by an unbuckled parent who was sent flying into him at impact. Unbuckled passengers increase the risk of injuring or killing others in the vehicle by 40 percent, the commercial states.
The spot provoked mixed reactions on social media. Some said it was too macabre for a Super Bowl ad in which puppies befriend horses and Bob Dylan shills American grit while others thought the ad was an effective vessel for an important message. Adweek Magazine dubbed it "The year's bleakest Super Bowl ad."
Orem's Peggy Burdett said she knows seat belts save lives, but depicting a dead child was "in poor taste. I just can't fathom how somebody thought that was something that would be a good commercial."
UDOT spokesperson John Gleason acknowledges that the commercial might have been something of a buzzkill, but if it saves lives, it will have been worth it.
"It's our hope that this commercial will spark a conversation and maybe inspire someone who doesn't typically buckle up to do so," Gleason said. "So many of us have grown up with the idea that buckling up is a personal decision. 'If I don't buckle up, I'm not hurting anybody else but myself.' "
Twenty percent of Utah drivers don't wear seat belts, Gleason said. "Sam" was an actor in a dramatization, "based on real stories that we've heard from friends in law enforcement," he said, but "this was a toned-down version of what law enforcement and first responders see on a regular basis."
Just two weeks ago, UDOT released 2013 fatality statistics that estimate 71 of 219 road deaths may have resulted from victims not wearing their seat belts.
The advertisement part of a yearlong, 450-spot, $160,000 contract with Fox 13 was paid for by federal funding for UDOT's Zero Fatality program. Gleason said it was the first time it aired and possibly the last.
Salt Lake City resident Kris Nelson said she was a first responder in the '80s and witnessed firsthand the value of wearing seat belts. She hopes the ad will continue to run.
"I thought it was very tastefully done, and the long pause at the end gave people time to think," Nelson said.
As of Wednesday morning, 45 of 50 readers who had called in were pro-ad. Wendy Garcia, of Clearfield, didn't have any problem with the subject matter but points out that Sam's straps appear to be far too loose in his car seat.
Draper's Tamara Gaffney said she was "rattled" by the advertisement, but "I guess, to a certain degree, that's a good thing. I had never thought about the fact that if I were unbuckled in my car, it could kill someone else."
The million-dollar question, as always, is what do you think? Give us a ring at 801-257-8768 and let us know.