UPDATE: Thursday 30th January – the decision of the ASA is under review…
I’m not sure if this is legal or not but as here goes. Below is a television commercial that has been banned by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) here in Britain. It’s an advert – a very witty one – that aims to promote cycle safety by encouraging motorists to see cyclists as horses (in the nicest possible way); most motorists slow down significantly when they see a horse ahead of them and give them a very wide berth but that isn’t always the case when they see a cyclist on a bike. Let’s be honest, it’s rarely the case. Most motorists carry on regardless at the same speed and many are quite happy to do so within a few tens of centimetres of the cyclist. But let’s get back to why the ad has been banned. Is it because it’s in some way offensive to public morals? Does it depict a highly dangerous activity? Is it simply not true? Well… not quite. Here is the ad:
If you would like to read the full judgement, here it is in all its glory. If you are happy with a brief summary, keep reading here.
According to the ASA, “five complainants challenged whether the ad was irresponsible and harmful, because it showed a cyclist without a helmet or any other safety attire, who was cycling down the middle of the road rather than one metre from the curb.”
It appears that to be taken seriously by the ASA you need only five people to complain. Five. Yes, that’s the number just after four and just before six. It’s the number of fingers and thumbs you will find on one hand. Five. The advert was shown in Scotland only (being produced for Cycling Scotland) which has a population of 5.3 million. So that means that if 0.00000094% of the population complain, the complaint is taken seriously. You can make your own mind up on that one but let’s get to the heart of the issue; the complaint itself.
Wearing a helmet is no more a legal requirement in Scotland than it is in the rest of the UK. It’s a desirable thing and I wear mine when I’m cycling to and from work every day and would encourage others to do so but I don’t have to. As for the position of the cyclist in the road, well, it’s the final shot of the ad. Have a look at the screenshot above. Look at the width of that road. If I were cycling along that road with that level of traffic (one car) I think I would be in exactly the same position as the cyclist shown. Again, there is no legal requirement to cycle in a particular place in the road; you put your bike in a position which is suitable for the conditions. Cars driving along country lanes don’t stick to the left of the road they position themselves in the middle of the road and move to one side when there is someone coming in the opposite direction.
In summary, the ASA disagrees;
“We understood that UK law did not require cyclists to wear helmets or cycle at least 0.5 metres from the kerb. However, under the Highway Code it was recommended as good practice for cyclists to wear helmets. Therefore, we considered that the scene featuring the cyclist on a road without wearing a helmet undermined the recommendations set out in the Highway Code. Furthermore, we were concerned that whilst the cyclist was more than 0.5 metres from the kerb, they 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. Therefore, for those reasons we concluded the ad was socially irresponsible and likely to condone or encourage behaviour prejudicial to health and safety.“
So any ad showing cycling must also have the cyclist wearing a helmet? Mmm…