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

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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.

Ruling on a complaint against a TV advert produced by Cycling Scotland on behalf of the Scottish Government, the ASA has ruled that all future television advertising featuring cyclists must only show cyclists wearing helmets. CTC is deeply concerned of the effect that such a ruling could have on the future popularity of cycling and increase public perception 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).

They have also issued a ruling on the cyclists’ position on the road which 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.

As a result, the ASA 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.

The latest data on cycle helmet use across Britain suggests that under a third of people wear helmets. In the Netherlands, where cycling is considered a normal activity and where over a quarter of all trips are made by cycle, helmet use is almost non-existent among those cycling for day-to-day journeys.

CTC’s 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.”

Notes to editors

CTC, the UK’s largest cycling charity, inspires and helps people to cycle and keep cycling, whatever kind of cycling they do or would like to do. Over a century’s experience tells us that cycling is more than useful transport; it makes you feel good, gives you a sense of freedom and creates a better environment for everyone.

  • We provide expert, practical help and advice.
  •  We support individuals and communities.
  • We protect cyclists’ interests.
  • We campaign to make cycling mainstream and to remove the things that stop people cycling.
  • We help people develop the confidence and skills to cycle.
  • We promote the benefits of cycling to individuals, to society and to the economy.

CTC’s views and briefing materials on cycle safety topics can be found on the pages linked from

Dr Mindell is Clinical Senior Lecturer at UCL – University College London and Co-chair (Research) of the Transport & Health Study Group. She published a paper on the relative risks of cycling in December 2012, which reveals the similar risks faced by cyclists in comparison with other road users.

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 declared by the ASA to be in breach of its code. The advertisement can be seen here:


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