A HARD-HITTING road safety campaign adopted by Hertfordshire County Council has been branded "sick and offensive" by the Association of British Drivers (ABD).

Fake valentine cards sent to 20,000 young drivers throughout the county feature a picture of an overturned crashed car that had hit a tree with the message: "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to kill you. I was driving too fast. I really miss you."

ABD chairman Brian Gregory said: "How low can these people sink? One can imagine happy youngsters opening their mail with the excitement of receiving a valentine card from a girlfriend, boyfriend or admirer only to be confronted with this.

"The most horrifying aspect is that it is likely that some of those receiving this card will have lost a loved one. One can only begin to imagine the anguish and upset such a cruel trick will cause."

The campaign was developed to target young men under 20 who research has revealed cause one in three accidents.

The cards were distributed through secondary schools and colleges, universities, nightclubs and pubs, leisure centres and major employers.

For My Girlfriend has been running for four years and has been adopted by several local authorities. The campaign organisers FMG.org.uk estimate about 300,000 valentine cards will have been distributed to young drivers in various parts of England in the run up to February 14.

ABD road safety spokesman Mark McArthur Christie said: "For years we have been attempting to persuade the authorities to send out genuinely useful road safety advice such as how to predict hazards and adjust speed to suit.

"This would be a valuable exercise as most of the small number of accidents contributed to by excessive speed, occur entirely within the speed limit.

"Proper education messages on how to set speed for the conditions would be far better received and acted upon by our young drivers than yet another scare tactic containing no useful information."

A Hertfordshire County Council spokesman said: "This is a national campaign but in this area we do not hand-deliver these cards, which is the aspect some people have found offensive.

"This campaign has been running in the area for a number of years and we think it does a very good job of raising awareness of a real problem for young people."

For My Girlfriend campaign organiser Nick Rawlings said: "We are very sorry that the card has upset and offended some people but if the campaign has impact and makes young people think about the potentially terrible consequences of driving too fast and, in time, helps save lives then we ask people to set aside their personal dislike of it."