Ruling on a complaint against a TV advert produced by Cycling Scotland on behalf of the Scottish Government, the Advertising Standards Authority has stated that television advertising featuring cyclists must show cyclists wearing helmets and riding in the gutter rather than riding too close to what the ASA said was the "parking lane". (Which doesn't exist). Cyclists who are shown riding in the manner shown in the Highway Code are, according to the ASA, "socially irresponsible."
The ASA ruling is at odds with UK-wide national standards for cycle training, which are backed by the UK and Scottish Governments. It is also in variance with Highway Code rule 163.
The ASA told Cycling Scotland that any future ads featuring cyclists should show cyclists riding in the “most suitable cycling position,” which the ASA said is towards the side of the road (or, remember, in ASA-speak, the "parking lane.)"
The ASA said that Cycling Scotland’s Nice Way Code advert broke rules 1.2, 4.1 or 4.4 of the advertising watchdog’s code, namely causing social responsibility, harm and giving offence respectively.
"We noted that the cyclist in the final scene was not wearing a helmet or any other safety attire, and appeared to be more than 0.5 metres from the parking lane," fretted the ASA. "We also acknowledged that the cyclist was shown in broad daylight on a fairly large lane without any traffic."
[Now that the ASA sees it fit to adjudicate on transport matters will it be making sure all future car adverts feature reality rather than fantasy driving conditions? But don't hold your breath: the ASA has previously ruled that an advert featuring cars driving through town trailing smoke flares was acceptable and it consistently refuses to rule against car advertisers who use the out-of-date, inaccurate and potentially dangerous phrase 'road tax' ]
The ASA's ruling added: "We were concerned that whilst the cyclist was more than 0.5 metres from the kerb, they appeared to be located more in the centre of the lane when the car behind overtook them and the car almost had to enter the right lane of traffic. Therefore, for those reasons we concluded the ad was socially irresponsible and likely to condone or encourage behaviour prejudicial to health and safety."
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.”
The ruling has been published on the ASA website.
In 2011, the ASA ruled that a Citroen ad featuring cyclists shown without helmets was not in breach of rules 4.1 or 4.4. However the ASA ruled that the Citroen ad breached rules 5.2 and 32.3, meaning the advert shouldn’t be shown at times when children might view it.
ASA's rulings can be overturned in an appeal to an independent adjudicator but third parties - such as members of the public - cannot complain, the appeal has to come from the advertiser or complainant. However, complaints can be made about the ASA in general. Complaints need to mention a named individual at the ASA. An ASA statement on the Cycling Scotland case featured Matt Wilson. Cycling Scotland is to appeal the ASA's decision.
MPs Julian Huppert and Ian Austin, co-chairs of the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group, have written to the CEO of the ASA saying the ASA's ruling is "liable to put people at risk". Pointing out the ASA's double standards, the letter also asks whether the ASA intends to apply the same rules to car advertising: "Would you intend to ban any advert showing a car overtaking another car and going into the right hand lane." Hupper and Austin conclude that the ASA's ruling is "unreasonable, inconsistent and dangerous."
A petition has been created asking the ASA to reverse its decision.
The ASA chairman is Lord Chris Smith, the former culture secretary. He is also a patron of Sustrans. The letter from the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group was copied to Lord Smith.
Cycle trainer David Dansky, a representative of the Association of Bikeability Schemes, has offered to advise the ASA on the delivery of the National Standard for cycle training. The National Standard for Cycle Training - or Bikeability - is overseen by the Department for Transport.
Dansky said: "A core principle of the National Standard guidance is about riding in a position where a cyclist is most likely to be seen by drivers. This advice from [the ASA] contradicts the Department for Transports own guidelines which state: 1 (Riders must) understand where to ride on roads being used: Trainees must understand the primary and secondary positions. Trainees must position themselves where they can be seen and should not cycle in the gutter. Where there is little other traffic and/or there is plenty of room to be overtaken they may ride in the secondary position. Where the road is narrow and two-way traffic would make it hazardous for the trainee to be overtaken by a following vehicle they must be observed to ride in the primary position.
"If the trainee is riding at the speed of other traffic then they should do so in the primary position.
"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. We are happy to offer people within the ASA a cycle training session to explore these points in more detail with a view to the ASA offering better advice about cycling safety."
The Nice Way Code was a £425,000 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 the advertisement below that declared by the ASA to be in breach of its code.
The Nice Way Code campaign was roundly condemned by many cycling campaigners.