Thursday, 30 January 2014

ASA ban advertisement showing cyclist riding without helmet


Good news - the ASA have withdrawn its ruling and have confirmed that there will be an independent review "in light of a potential flaw in our ruling."


The Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) has today upheld a complaint about a TV advertisement because it showed a cyclist without a helmet riding in the primary position. The advertisement (pictured below) was part of Cycling Scotland's Nice Way Code campaign, which was aimed at encouraging cycle safety. A petition to reverse the ASA’s ruling has been started and I encourage all who care about road safety to sign it

Cycling Scotland made a number of sensible arguments to the ASA when defending the footage. They mentioned that there is no legal compulsion to wear a helmet and the importance of encouraging cycling. They also referred the ASA to Cyclecraft (required reading for accredited cycle instructors) which identified riding in the centre of the active traffic lane as the default position for cyclists to adopt on urban roads. However, the ASA pointed to the Highway Code, which advises cyclist to wear helmets, and said that the advertisement undermined these recommendations.

In the recent Scottish criminal case following the death of Audrey Fyfe, who was killed whilst cycling, the appeal court acknowledged “there is a degree of controversy as to the efficacy of cycle helmets.” The court also found that the earlier Judge in the case had drawn conclusions regarding cycle helmets that were based “not on evidence but on speculation.” Unfortunately, the ASA have fallen into the same trap. The ASA also commented that "the cyclist appeared to be located more in the centre of the lane when the car behind overtook them and the car almost had to enter the right lane of traffic". If they had continued reading the Highway Code down to rule 163, they would see a car doing exactly that. 

The ASA concluded that the advertisement was “socially irresponsible and likely to condone or encourage behaviour prejudicial to health and safety." I would suggest that the actions of the ASA in upholding this complaint are socially irresponsible, bearing in mind the benefits to health and the environment from cycling.

Advertisements for cars will often use techniques to show the velocity of the vehicle and, as long as speed is not “the main message of their marketing communications,” the ASA have shown little appetite to challenge this. In 2011, the Fiat 500 was marketed with the strap line "Try a whole new kind of speed dating.” As the main message was related to ‘speed dating,’ the ASA considered that speed was not the main message and did not uphold the complaints. According to the Department for Transport’s report on Road Casualties in that same year, travelling too fast for the road conditions was a factor in 25% of cases involving death or serious injury. 

The ASA’s decision to uphold the complaint against Cycling Scotland highlights a skewed attitude held by many towards road safety. Cyclists are seen as the authors of their own misfortune whose actions need to be restricted. Meanwhile, the harm caused by motorists goes overlooked.