The ASA should do their homework

I was very disappointed to read about the recent Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) ruling banning the Nice Way Code advert "See cyclist, Think horse". I did voice concern regarding the adverts at the time as I didn’t feel they were hard hitting enough and yet I now find myself rightly defending Cycling Scotland and Clearcast's arguments that the advert should not have been banned. My understanding is 5 complaints were received from members of the public and the ASA upheld the complaints and banned the advert on the basis it was “socially irresponsible" to show a cyclist without a helmet and the cyclist's road position caused the car driver to move almost onto the opposite carriageway to overtake.The second criticism was somewhat lost in the media scum that ensued regarding the wearing of helmets.

A journalist gave me visibility of the embargoed press release which contained the ruling and the ASA's explanation before it hit the press and so I was able to make the following comment:

"If Scotland is to achieve its vision of 10% of journeys by bicycle by 2020, then we need to encourage the take-up of safer cycling. We need to create a culture as can be seen in other parts of Europe where cyclists are given space not because they are wearing a helmet or because they are lit up like a Christmas tree, but because they are seen as vulnerable road users.
Improved infrastructure, legal protection, better training and education for all road users are just some of a number of safety measures which need to be introduced to make this a reality."

However, I also made an observation which was not reported in the Press but which was picked up by others and communicated on social networks. The observation was as follows:-

The ASA considered that showing a cyclist without a helmet undermined the recommendations in the Highway code yet went on to say that when the car overtook the cyclist it “almost had to enter the right hand lane” as if that was a criticism of the cyclist’s position. Yet the same Highway Code recommends drivers give cyclists “at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car.“ Below is the illustration from Rule 163 of the Highway code. Please note the position of the car! If the ASA wishes to cite the Highway code in support of its rulings, I would suggest they familiarise themselves with the Rules and adopt a consistent approach to their interpretation.

Overtake only when it is safe and legal to do so. You should:

• not get too close to the vehicle you intend to overtake
• use your mirrors, signal when it is safe to do so, take a quick sideways glance if necessary into the blind spot area and then start to move out
• not assume that you can simply follow a vehicle ahead which is overtaking; there may only be enough room for one vehicle
• move quickly past the vehicle you are overtaking, once you have started to overtake. Allow plenty of room. Move back to the left as soon as you can but do not cut in
• take extra care at night and in poor visibility when it is harder to judge speed and distance
• give way to oncoming vehicles before passing parked vehicles or other obstructions on your side of the road
• only overtake on the left if the vehicle in front is signaling to turn right, and there is room to do so
• stay in your lane if traffic is moving slowly in queues. If the queue on your right is moving more slowly than you are, you may pass on the left
• give motorcyclists, cyclists and horse riders at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car (see Rules 211 to 213 and 214 to 215).

I am delighted the ASA made the following announcement a couple of days after the initial ruling and Press release:-

"The ASA has withdrawn its formal ruling against a Cycling Scotland ad pending the outcome of an Independent Review. That followed a request from Cycling Scotland, in which it argued that the ASA’s criticism of the positioning of the cyclist was incorrect. The decision to withdraw was made by the ASA Chief Executive in light of a potential flaw in our ruling. Once the Independent Review process is complete we will publish our decision on our website"

I am sure that a petition which now has over 4000 names on it as well as the flurry of activity on social networks and in the Press were responsible for the decision to suspend the ruling.

Let's wait and see what their own internal review finds.

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