Scotland’s The Nice Way Code campaign got an almighty and justifiable thrashing from campaigners last year, particularly for its nonsensical advice, and notions of collective responsibility. However, with one judgement, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has managed to make me feel sorry for it.
Here’s a still from one of the Nice Way Code videos – ‘Think Horse’.
Fairly unexceptional, you might think.
Yet this particular scene apparently prompted five people to write in complaint to the ASA.
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.
‘Irresponsible and harmful’.
This is complete guff, of course. At no point was the cyclist travelling ‘down the middle of the road’. ‘The middle of the road’ in these cases never refers to a precise location, more to the fact that someone is in someone else’s way, or slightly inconveniencing them. And the lack of safety attire or helmet is neither here nor there – these are not legal requirements.
Over and out, you might think. Complaints dismissed, chucked straight in the bin. Reasonable points about national guidance on how to cycle, the need to make cycling look ordinary and attractive, and the lack of legal requirements are commendably made by both Cycling Scotland and the advert’s producers. Indeed, Cycling Scotland point out that the making of the advert was actually supervised by one of Scotland’s most experienced cycling instructors.
But it seems the ASA know better, for they have UPHELD – UPHELD – this complaint. They write
The ad must not be broadcast again in its current form. We told Cycling Scotland that any future ads featuring cyclists should be shown wearing helmets and placed in the most suitable cycling position.
In more detail, particularly about what the ASA think is ‘the most suitable cycling position’ -
We understood that UK law did not require cyclists to wear helmets or cycle at least 0.5 metres from the kerb. However, under the Highway Code it was recommended as good practice for cyclists to wear helmets. Therefore, we considered that the scene featuring the cyclist on a road without wearing a helmet undermined the recommendations set out in the Highway Code. Furthermore, 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.
There is so much wrong with this it is impossible to know where to start. But just a couple of things leap out. The advert has essentially been banned because it contravenes recommendations in the Highway Code about helmets. Not rules – advice. The word used is ‘should’, not ‘must’. Here’s the relevant section –
This ruling opens the door to adverts being banned if the people cycling in them are not wearing ‘reflective clothing and/or accessories’. Even an advert featuring someone riding a bike in darkish clothes could be banned by the logic of this judgement – because you ‘should’ wear light-coloured clothing.
It also suggests that vast numbers of car adverts should be banned. Why? Rule 152.
You should drive slowly and carefully on streets where there are likely to be pedestrians, cyclists and parked cars.
You should drive slowly and carefully in urban areas. All those car adverts showing cars zipping around are toast, according to this judgement – at least they should be. Just one example.
Not especially slow and careful in areas where there are likely to be pedestrians. So I suggest people get busy and start filing complaints on the basis of this judgement.
If they were feeling mischievous, they could actually file complaints to the ASA about Department for Transport and Transport for London adverts suggesting cyclists ride centrally. Because, you know, that’s ‘socially irresponsible’ and might force a driver to even slightly enter a different lane, causing them to spontaneously combust. The ASA should be taking this seriously, and slapping down the DfT and TfL.
And the final silliness – look back at the still of the advert that’s the source of the complaint. There’s someone riding a bike, fairly slowly, without head protection, being overtaken by someone in an open-top car which can legally travel at 70mph, with his head fully exposed in the event of a crash.
Then ponder the absurdity of judging only the former activity as ‘irresponsible and harmful’.