Wednesday 29 January 2014

Know Your ASA from Your Elbow

I've sat here for a while trying to work out how to start this particular blog. I never usually have a problem starting a new blog, but this one....this one is a doozy.

Where do I begin...

Umm.....hmmmm...OK......I'm going to have to say it......


Oops! Sorry about that. I've said something on a blog I promised a while back I wouldn't say again. Unfortunately, I need to say it again. Fear not though, this is not a blog about the NWC. The NWC is an innocent (ahem) bystander in something much, much bigger. Firstly though, you have to watch a video. Yes it is an NWC video......I know, I know..... but.....please do watch it. It will all become clear shortly....


Sorry about that. 

Now I want you to ignore all the bad stuff in the video, i.e. nearly all of it. All the references to horses, the fact that it is condescending in the extreme....etc. Ignore it all. I want you to focus on the only decent bit of the video. The last part from 34 seconds. 

What do we see from 34 seconds? We see a cyclist riding her bike in a perfectly acceptable manner along an unusually quiet road. We see a car overtaking the cyclist and giving the cyclist a good amount of room. Yes, the car has to go over the central line, but the driver has been careful to make sure it is safe to do so. The car is also going at a very appropriate speed, as safe speed in a built up urban area. The cyclist and the driver are both happy.

This, ladies and gentlemen, this last few seconds of the video (please ignore the words on the screen and the potholes at the very end!) is a vision of Cycling Nirvana. This small section of video heaven is a time and a place where everyone looks out for everyone else, and the safety of others is more important than saving a few seconds off of a journey.


THUMP!..........Here we are back in reality, but there is nothing wrong with dreaming. OK, we will probably need some cycle infrastructure there to direct the road users to co-exist peacefully, but it's a lovely snippet of footage that warms the cockles of one's heart.

The NWC, understandably, upset a lot of people. The advert in this blog was a prime example of why people felt compelled to complain about the whole advertising campaign, and they generally complained to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). The ASA have the job of upholding advertising standards, ensuring that we aren't overly offended by them, or completely misled by them. This means they have the power to ban adverts if they contravene the ASA code. I know of a few complaints that were filed with the ASA, and they were all reasonable. Unfortunately none of them were upheld. The ASA, for example didn't think that an advert suggesting that cyclists often give drivers the finger was offensive. This is despite the fact  that  the advert itself showed that middle finger being given, in a Sunday paper, in full view of any child who might be glancing over their mum and dad's shoulder. Not offensive at all, apparently.

Right. So what exactly do the ASA think is offensive?

Today I was contacted by the Scotsman and asked to comment on a new ruling from the ASA banning one of the NWC adverts. They have an article on that very subject here. I stress you to read it to prove that what follows is not just a figment of my imagination.....

Has the ASA seen sense? Has the ASA understood that cyclists felt insulted, by the NWC adverts? No.

Has the ASA finally felt that placing an image of a 'middle finger' in a Sunday paper was offensive? No.

Has the ASA felt that the adverts were grossly unfair to cyclists, as they suggested that cyclists were all guilty of running red lights or at least guilty of the sins of those who do? No.

This latest ASA ruling specifically bans the video above for the following reasons (I still can't believe this as I type it...)

.....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.
The ad breached BCAP Code rules 1.2 (Social responsibility), 4.1 and 4.4 (Harm and offence).

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.
........1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10.......and breath........


So, what we have here, is the ASA telling Cycling Scotland (and yes I'm not always their biggest fan), how to tell cyclists how to cycle. Apparently not wearing a helmet is socially irresponsible. (Sorry Netherlands, you are a country of reprobates).  Apparently cycling away from the curb (and I'm sorry ASA, but this lady is not cycling in the middle of the lane, no-where near it!), avoiding the cobbles and the potholes (yes take a look right at the end of the video, there are some craters there), is likely to lead to harm and offence.


I've heard the phrases 'you couldn't make it up', and ' life is often stranger than fiction' used before, but NEVER have they been more appropriate than they are now.


Yes, the NWC was terrible. Yes I would have been happy had the adverts been banned at the time. Yes there were some aspects of the NWC that I think were offensive and would lead to harm, and yet, here we are, long after the NWC has voluntarily closed the doors on the campaign, and we have the ASA banning one of the adverts based based on the only part of their advert campaign that actually demonstrated how cycling could and should be done.  

I don't have the superlatives in my vocabulary to convey my astonishment at this. I'm sorry. I'll just have to say Blimey! again.

All of this madness does raise an few questions:

Has the person who wrote this from the ASA actually ever ridden a bike?
Has the person who wrote this from the ASA actually ever seen a bike?
Where in the Highway Code is there any mention about cyclists riding about 0.5m from the curb?
Where in the video did the cyclist ride in the middle of the lane?
Does the ASA think the drivers head will explode if his car is forced to cross the central dividing line?
Does the ASA think there in no justification for taking the middle of the lane?
Does the ASA have some facts about the life saving properties of polystyrene that they would like to share with us?
Is the ASA suggesting that when I go riding with my kids and I don't wear a helmet that I am being socially irresponsible?
Has the ASA ever heard of a country called the Netherlands?
Is the ASA willing to pop over there and tell the Dutch in a public meeting that they are being socially irresponsible by not wearing helmets when they are cycling?
Is the ASA really being serious that Cycling Scotland, in all future adverts have to advertise cycling, and encourage more people to cycle, by having everyone in their adverts dressed up in hi-vis and helmets? Seriously?!
Does this ASA ruling apply to all future advertising of any nature about cycling?
Does the ASA think that cycling like this lady did, and wearing what she did is more or less socially responsible than...... driving to work every day, sitting in heavy traffic, belching CO2 and other pollutants out which are a risk for peoples health, putting other road users at greater risk (cars represent greater risk than bikes no matter what way you look at it), increasing the risk of early death through reduced exercise and contributing to increasing levels of congestion?

I look forward to some answers.......

The full ASA adjudication an be found here for your reading pleasure.


  1. Incredible, you really couldn't make it up!

    My guess would be they have been contacted by 'concerned parents' about the helmets and by 'concerned motorists' about the riding away from the kerb and chosen to listen to them rather than anyone who knows about cycling, because the people at the ASA almost certainly fall into the same group as jurors who sit in a courtroom and think 'there but for the grace of God go I' and then let off dangerous drivers. They choose to side with people they can most relate to.

  2. Reminds me to a few months back to when the United States Postal Service destroyed an entire run of postage stamps that promoted physical activity to children, because the stamps contained ones that showed skateboarding without a helmet, baseball without a batting helmet, and I kid you not, doing a handstand without a helmet.

    If you haven't seen these dangerous stamps:

  3. Thank you for posting. Their helmet comments are bad enough but I am left speechless by their comments on road positioning. Surely they breach their own rule 1.2 (Social responsibility) by claiming that cyclists should ride in a position that is known to be more dangerous?

  4. Words fail me, they really do!

  5. Can anyone else see the bit where the cyclist is in the "middle of the road"? She's not even in the middle of the lane, never mind riding along the white line in the middle of the road.

  6. This is just infuriating. If you watch the last second of the video you'll see it cuts off just as a rather nasty cluster of potholes appears in EXACTLY the place in the road where the ASA is suggesting a 'socially responsible' rider must be. Which is the more dangerous: maintaining a position on a wide road which is away from the majority of potholes, leaves and general stoor swept into the gutter whilst giving cars ample room to safely overtake; or weaving unpredictably in and out of the gutter whilst drivers try and predict where you will be in the road when they do overtake?

    Also, reading the ruling I am struck by this statement: "the car almost had to enter the right lane of traffic". Watching the video back, at no point did the car cross the central line and, even if they had, so what? We cyclists are constantly trying to educate drivers that they SHOULD give us sufficient space when they overtake and that this usually does mean that they will have to overtake us using the right-hand lane. The highway code, which the ASA uses as justification for this ruling, even goes so far as to show a car overtaking in exactly that position.

    It is, in my opinion, not the advert which is socially irresponsible but the ASA's ruling.

  7. Do they expect that motorists will never overtake cars (which would put them actually, rather than nearly, in the other lane)? Can we look forward to such scenes of horror being banned from all adverts?