Advertising Standards Authority withdraws ban on tv ads promoting cycling


Can you spot the "harmful and irresponsible" element in this picture?

In a rapid response to overwhelming public and political pressure the Adverstising Standards Authority have withdrawn their ban on television ads promoting cycilng and saftey.

In a startling adjudication published on Wednesday the ASA banned the broadcast of a Cycling Scotland TV ad promoting safe cycling and careful driving. The ban has now been lifted pending the outcome of an independent review. The ASA have even removed the origninal adjudication from their website. You can read it here.

The ad was part of Cycling Scotland's "Niceway Code" campaign issued last year. The ruling meant that all future TV advertising could only show cyclists wearing helmets and they could not ride safely as recommended by National Standards Cycle Training.

The ASA had said that the ad shown above was "harmful and irresponsible" because the cyclist is not wearing a helmet and is not cycling close to the edge of the road.

The ASA based their helmet ruling on the Highway Code good practice recommendation that cyclists should wear helmets yet they seem to be unaware of how controversial that advice is and that on three occasions the UK parliament has rejected bills for compulsory helmet wearing.

At the last official count only about a third of UK cyclists chose to wear helmets and fewer than that on quiet suburban roads. You are in fact less likely to be killed in a mile of cycling than a mile of walking (DfT Reported Road Casualties Great Britian table RAS30070).


Part of the ASA ruling was in direct contradiction of National Standards Cycle Training advice which says cyclists should not ride close to the gutter, on narrow roads they should be in the "primary" position so that they are clearly visible and so that cars overtake as directed by rule 163 of the Highway Code.

The ASA appeared to be making road rules up as they wanted suggesting cyclists should only ride 0.5 metres from the kerb or parked cars and allow cars to squeeze by without overtaking safely as shown above.

The view that cyclists should ride close to the left side is a common prejudice amongst non cyclists. The official advice is to stay away from parked cars to avoid the risk from opening doors. In London opening car doors are the third most common cause of serious injury to cyclists and are involved in 10% of cyclist fatalities.

The ASA have backed down on the day after a jury in Southampton acquitted a van driver who killed a cyclist, David Irving. The driver failed to give David enough space for cycling when overtaking, hitting his helmet from behind with the van's wing mirror.


MPs and public complain

As well as thousands of complaints from ordinary cyclists the the chief executive of the ASA received a strongly worded letter from the joint chairs of the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group. You can read the letter here.

Julian Huppert MP and Ian Austin MP wrote:

"If the ASA position is that advisory comments in the Highway Code are to be taken as binding, does the ASA intend to ban, for example, adverts depicting pedestrians at night not wearing reflective items, as per rule 17?"

Other cyclists have pointed out that if the ASA took their own code seriously they would have to ban all car advertising under rule 4.1 "Advertisements must contain nothing that could cause physical, mental, moral or social harm to persons under the age of 18" and rule 4.4 "Advertisements must not include material that is likely to condone or encourage behaviour that prejudices health or safety."

The Association of Bikeability Schemes have issued a press release saying "If the ASA wish to issue guidance regarding how to reduce risk while cycling we would suggest that the ASA consult the National Standard for cycle training."

They have also offered cycle training sessions for the ASA staff and committee.

Independent Review

It is not yet clear how the ASA's "independet review" will be conducted. Cycling Scotland have already asked for a review. The ad was part of their "Niceway Code" safety campaign endorsed by Police Scotland, the Institute of Advanced Motorists, the AA and many other competent authorities. 

The ASA adjudication made it clear that Cycling Scotland had already supplied evidence supporting their policy of showing cyclists both with and without helmets. The policy "discussed the possible undesired outcomes of wearing helmets, including limiting uptake of cyling (leading to less physical activity) and influencing a driver's behaviour to be less careful when interacting on the road."

Cycling Scotland also provided evidence on riding in a safe road position from the recognised reference for cycletraining "Cyclecraft". They pointed out that the video was shot under the supervision of one of Scotland's leading cycle trainers.