Advertising watchdog’s helmet ruling threatens the promotion of normal cycling

The image that proved controversial to the ASA
CTC, the national cycling charity, has voiced concern over a ruling by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) which could prevent future adverts from showing cyclists without helmets on TV.

In response to complaints against a TV advert produced by Cycling Scotland on behalf of the Scottish Government, the ASA ruled that all future television advertising featuring cyclists must only show cyclists wearing helmets. 

The ASA also ruled that the cyclist's position on the road in the advert was unsafe. CTC believes this is at odds with UK-wide national standards for cycle training, which CTC was instrumental in developing, and which are now backed by the UK and Scottish Governments.

The ASA has therefore told Cycling Scotland that any future ads featuring cyclists should be shown wearing helmets and placed in ‘the most suitable cycling position’, which the ASA believes is towards the side of the road.

CTC is deeply concerned at the effect such a ruling could have on the future popularity of cycling, by increasing public fears that cycling is more 'dangerous' than it really is.  You are in fact less likely to be killed in a mile of cycling than a mile of walking (DfT Reported Road Casualties Great Britain, table RAS30070).

UPDATE: The ASA has withdrawn its ruling pending an Independent Review, which has been requested by Cycling Scotland. The decision to withdraw the ruling was made by the ASA Chief Executive, "in light of a potential flaw in our ruling", suggesting that this is an unusual step. CTC will continue to support Cycling Scotland through the appeal process and aim to have both aspects of the ruling - road positioning and helmets - are withdrawn.

The decision to withdraw was made by the ASA Chief Executive in light of a potential flaw in our ruling.

ASA statement

The UK's All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group has also voiced its concerns in a letter to the ASA, sent by its co-chairs Julian Huppert MP and Ian Austin MP.

CTC has offered support for Cycling Scotland in seeking to appeal against the ruling and will investigate what action individuals can take to add their support. By way of immediate responses, an online petition has been set up, and CTC invites you to submit clips of other adverts which could now be banned under ASA's ruling.

The ASA’s ill-advised decision shows a misunderstanding of common cycle safety issues and risks undermining the promotion of cycling as a safe and normal activity.

Gordon Seabright
CTC Chief Executive and Cycling Scotland Board Member

The latest data on cycle helmet use across Britain suggests that under a third of people wear helmets. In the Netherlands, where over a quarter of all trips are made by cycle, cycle safety is far better than in Britain, while helmet use for day-to-day cycling trips is almost non-existent.

Chief Executive Gordon Seabright, who is also a board member of Cycling Scotland, said: “The ASA’s ill-advised decision shows a misunderstanding of common cycle safety issues and risks undermining the promotion of cycling as a safe and normal activity.”

Dr Jennifer Mindell, Clinical Senior Lecturer at UCL, said: “I don’t know why cycling has a reputation for being so risky. The risks are lower in general for cyclists than for pedestrians.  Males aged 17-20 are at substantially higher risk when driving than when cycling.”

The 'Nice Way Code' was a £425k multi-channel cycling awareness advertising campaign that ran in Scotland during 2013, funded by the Scottish Government and run by Cycling Scotland. One of the advertisements, called 'See Cyclist, Think Horse', attempted to reinforce the message that drivers should give as much room as they would to a horse rider when overtaking a cyclist. It was this advertisement that was declared by the ASA to be in breach of its code. The advertisement can be seen here: