Cyclists don't have to wear helmets or ride in gutter, ASA rules

ASA has overturned its decision to ban a TV advert that showed some cyclists not wearing helmets & riding away from the gutter
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The Advertising Standards Authority has confirmed its decision to overturn the ban on a Cycling Scotland TV advert which was aimed at getting motorists to give cyclists more room on the road. The ban caused a furore on social media and on bike websites earlier this year, with the ASA withdrawing its ban pending a review. This review has now agreed that the first decision was wrong.

The TV ad featured a female cyclist without a helmet and riding away from the gutter. "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," said the ASA, upholding the complaints.

The ASA was deluged with complaints from cyclists and cycling organisations pointing out that helmet use while cycling was a personal choice and that "riding in the middle of the road" was not a social evil.

The ad stated in the voice-over "... you should treat a cyclist the way you treat a horse ... slow down, treat them with care and give them their space on the road." 

Cycling Scotland advised the ASA that given the width of the road featured in the advert, the cyclist was safer riding out past the parking area where they could be clearly visible to other road users. Furthermore, they informed the ASA that the shoot for the advert was supervised by one of their most experienced cycling instructors.

However, the ASA in its new adjudication still wrongly calls the nearside of the road the "parking lane." The ASA is supposed to be an accuracy watchdog and this erroneous use of language was pointed out to the organisation at the time of the first complaint. The ASA has withdrawn the "advertisers must feature cyclists wearing helmets" adjudication and the "ride in the gutter" ruling but has not slapped itself on the wrists for using the non-legal term "parking lane."

The ASA ruled:

"We acknowledged Cycling Scotland’s explanation regarding why the cyclist featured in the final scene of the ad was placed in the primary position and that this was an appropriate position to depict the cyclist in given the specific road conditions. We identified that the cyclist was shown in broad daylight and positioned on the centre of a fairly large lane, without any traffic and was clearly visible. Furthermore, we noted that there was a large gap between her and the car which overtook her. For those reasons, we considered that the cyclist had been placed in a suitable cycling position.

"We understood that the Highway Code recommends that helmets “should” be worn which conform to current regulations, fit correctly and are securely fastened. However, we acknowledged that it was not a UK legal requirement for cyclists to wear helmets, but instead was a decision they could make at their own discretion. We noted Cycling Scotland’s and Clearcast’s point that this was reflected in the ad by showing various cyclists with and without helmets.

"We acknowledged Cycling Scotland’s reference to the National Cycling Charity (CTC) report, which discussed the possible harmful outcomes of wearing cycling helmets, including evidence that some drivers perceive cyclists wearing helmets to be less vulnerable road users and that this can influence driver behaviours to be less cautious around cyclists. We agreed that the ad was primarily targeted at motorists with the aim of raising awareness of the different kinds of real life scenarios in which they may encounter cyclists on the road."

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