Transport for London (TfL) has been slammed on social media for an advert launched during Road Safety Week earlier this month, with Twitter users accusing it of “victim blaming” and promoting “false equivalence” by suggesting that all road users share the same responsibility for ensuring the safety of others.
The integrated campaign, entitled ‘See their Side’ and which will run “for a number of years,” aims to change the culture of road users and contribute towards Mayor of London Sadiq Khan’s Vision Zero goal of having zero deaths and serious injuries on the capital’s roads by 2041.
It includes the above 60-second film that is currently airing on TV and which, according to the agency VCCP London, which drew up the campaign, “directly tackles the tribal culture which currently dominates London’s roads.”
The agency’s creative director, Simon Learman, says that the ad, directed by Simon Ratigan, “targets all London road users, and appeals to the audience’s emotions with the presentation of a very real, albeit disturbing interaction between a car driver and cyclist who narrowly escape a collision.
“The initial fury is drowned out by inner monologues, until the anger subsides, they both realise how their behaviour has affected the other’s, and they express genuine concern for one another. The film draws to an emotional conclusion with both road users who are visibly shaken up asking whether each other is ok.”
Among those criticising the ad on Twitter were a number of prominent active travel and road safety campaigners, including Dr Robert Davis, chair of the Road Danger Reduction Forum.
He wrote: “I really didn't like the ‘See their side. See safer roads’ advert just shown on ITV. Made by @TfL (+ @transportgovuk 's @THINKgovuk ) it’s the perfect slogan for the false equivalence of old style ‘road safety’.
“It won't reduce danger on the roads. It has no robust evidence base for doing so.
“‘Their side’ may be responsible for endangering others, or it might be relatively far less of a physical threat to others (and also more at risk from road danger).
“If we don't base our approach on understanding that difference, we're nowhere,” he added.
robust evidence base for doing so.
"Their side" may be responsible for endangering others, or it might be relatively far less of a physical threat to others (and also more at risk from road danger).
If we don't base our approach on understanding that difference, we're nowhere.
— CHAIRRDRF (@CHAIRRDRF) November 24, 2021
The “difference” that Dr Davis highlights is one now being acknowledged within government, with forthcoming changes to the Highway Code set to outline a hierarchy of road users aimed at protecting the most vulnerable.
The Ranty Highywayman, a traffic engineer by profession, described the spot as “crass, old fashioned ‘false equivalence’ nonsense.”
Says it all in their own words - one (the driver) has a little fright, the other (cyclist) is nearly killed - how is this equivalent?
— Herbie Green (@HerbieGreen) November 25, 2021
I saw it and it's the same as that Breathe advert last time which told us all to take a step back after we'd just nearly been killed by a texting driver.
— Elisabeth 🐺 Anderson (@velobetty) November 25, 2021
The character portrayals are particularly contrived. Did they make the grittier, alternative version where a woman on a bike, riding up a painted murder strip, is crushed by a left hook on a roundabout, and the tipper truck driver asks her if she’s ok as they zip up the body bag?
— Family ByCycle (@FamilyByCycle) November 25, 2021
When the campaign launched last week, Miranda Leedham, head of customer marketing & behaviour change at TfL said: “At TfL we want to make London safer for all.
“We’re incredibly passionate about this objective and ‘See their side’ is a film we wanted our audience to resonate with.
“The end product is a film which pulls at the heart strings and really encourages all road users to wake up and think about the potential of their actions.
“We’re fully behind helping The Mayor achieve his Vision Zero ambition to eradicate deaths and serious injuries from our roads and make London a safer place to live,” she added.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.