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ASA overturns ban on ad showing cyclist without helmet

Cycling Scotland successfully appeals January decision as ad watchdog accepts its arguments

A ban on an advert that showed a cyclist riding without a helmet has been overturned by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) following an appeal by Cycling Scotland, which produced the clip as part of a campaign urging drivers to give cyclists more room when overtaking.

Five people had complained about the advert, which was aired last year as part of Cycling Scotland's Nice Way Code campaign and urged drivers to "See Cyclist. Think Horse."

It included a scene depicting a woman riding in the middle of the lane. Complaints included that she was not wearing a helmet or other safety equipment, and that she should have been riding close to the kerb.

The ASA banned the advert in January, saying it broke rules on relating to “social responsibility” and “harm and offence,” and said that people riding bikes in TV adverts must be shown wearing helmets and should ride no more than 0.5 metres from the kerb.

In its ruling on the appeal published today, the advertising watchdog accepted that neither wearing a helmet nor riding 0.5 metres from the kerb are legal requirements, and it also agreed that given the road conditions, the cyclist was correctly positioned.

The ruling said: “We acknowledged Cycling Scotland's 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.

The ASA also agreed that “the ad featured a realistic situation, in that not all cyclists wore helmets,” and that it “illustrated that the same care should be given to all cyclists, whether or not they wore a helmet.”

It added: “Because it was not a UK legal requirement for cyclists to wear helmets and because the ad depicted a range of real life situations in which motorists may encounter cyclists on the road for the purposes of educating them about the risks to cyclists posed by poor driving behaviours we concluded that the ad was not socially irresponsible and likely to condone or encourage behaviour prejudicial to health and safety.”

Cycling Scotland’s chief executive, Ian Aitken, welcomed today’s decision.

He said: “The advert shows drivers the correct amount of space to give when overtaking someone who is cycling.  People cycle for a variety of reasons, and, as such, drivers will encounter people cycling in a range of clothing styles, some with and some without a helmet. 

“So, regardless the reason why someone is cycling, or what they are wearing while doing so, drivers need to slow down and give as much space as they would a car when overtaking a person on a bike.

“The ASA adjudication has led to a constructive debate on the correct amount road space to give those who are cycling, as well as highlighting suitable road position for those traveling by bike. We are pleased that the final adjudication has confirmed the advert gives the correct guidance to people driving and cycling.”

He added: “Cycling Scotland would also like to thank the huge groundswell of support throughout the process, notably those who highlighted relevant information or research that could further support the aims of the messaging of the advert as well as partner organisations and groups who helped feed into our response.”

Among those organsations it thanked was national cyclists' charity CTC, whose policy co-ordinator Chris Peck said: "It's great news that the ASA have listened to cycling groups and the many cyclists out there who expressed their concern about the original finding.

"Helmets aren't compulsory in the UK, and we will fight to prevent them becoming so, including any creeping coercion that suggests that unhelmeted cyclists are somehow 'irresponsible'."

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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