The bizarre case of the ASA and the cycle safety ad

Cycle scotland

The Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) decision to ban a Cycling Scotland advert for showing a woman cycling without a helmet, more than 0.5 metres away from a kerb is both puzzling and frustrating in the extreme. If you haven’t yet heard about the furore, here is a good summary from the Guardian:

The TV ad, designed to encourage motorist to give cyclists more space on the road by using the slogan “See Cyclist. Think Horse” elicited five complaints, and was partly upheld. Complaints were made about the woman’s lack of safety attire, lack of helmet and distance from the kerb, despite Cycling Scotland pointing out that helmets were not a legal requirement, and that the woman was riding in the “primary position” – the safest position for urban roads, giving the car in the video plenty of room to overtake. The ASA upheld the complaints, calling the ad “socially irresponsible and likely to condone or encourage behaviour prejudicial to health and safety”, and the ad must not be broadcast again in its current form.

So, the ASA has decided to take on the role of both the Health and Safety Executive and the Department of Transport on the basis of 5 complaints. Not satisfied that the Highway Code exists – that sage and wise document designed to provide guidance to all – the ASA has decided in its wisdom to redefine the ‘correct’ position for a cyclist on a road. According to the ASA, ac cyclist should be 0.5 metres from the kerb rather than in the primary riding position (the centre of the lane/the most left-hand lane on multi-lane roads) or  secondary riding position (about a metre to the left of moving traffic, but not closer than 0.5 metres to the edge of the road) – AND arbitrarily decide that its high time we all wore helmets. Irrespective of where you stand on the helmet debate – I’m pro choice but mainly choose to wear one – it simply ain’t their job.

It’s my personal view that we can’t let them get away with this. The most dangerous thing in our current environment is a car and as pedestrian, cyclist and driver, its an issue I’m acutely of. Cars travel at high speed in the immediate vicinity of people. The only protection we get from being smacked by a high velocity lump of metal are a collection of road markings and the behaviour of the driver (try building factory machinery that operates on the same basis; it simply wouldn’t be tolerated). For the ASA to get involved in such a ham fisted manner – particularly when you bear in mind the public service nature of the advert – is beyond comprehension. You can register a complaint with the ASA here and you can sign a petition to reverse the decision here. In the meantime, keep your eyes peeled for any car advert that even remotely hints at speeds that exceed the limit of the road its travelling on. You know who to contact if you spot one.

UPDATE – A mere 1hr and 20mins later…..

Received an email from Mike Stead – who started the petition via

“The ASA has withdrawn its formal ruling against a Cycling Scotland ad pending the outcome of an Independent Review. That followed a request from Cycling Scotland, in which it argued that the ASA’s criticism of the positioning of the cyclist was incorrect. The decision to withdraw was made by the ASA Chief Executive in light of a potential flaw in our ruling. Once the Independent Review process is complete we will publish our decision on our website”

How much influence 3,400 of you piling on in had to do with it we’ll never know – but when I called the ASA at 4pm yesterday the bloke on the phone knew about the petition and was sounding a bit harassed to say the least. It’s all power to the collective cycling elbow.

Let’s wait and see what their own internal review finds – if they find the ruling stands, then be sure I’ll print out the petition and along with whoever wants to join in – Cycling Embassy of Great Britain, LCC, et al – meet with Mr Philips in person to present the case.

Pedal on.


Well done all you petition signers. As an absolute bare minimum, we’ve forced a full rethink.


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