Helmets double standards for Advertising Standards Authority

ASA logoBack in January, the advertising standards authority (ASA) objected for “health and safety” reasons to a safe cycling advert by Cycling Scotland.

That ruling caused a backlash by people throughout the UK; Cycling Scotland appealed to the ASA for a review of the decision. The following day, the Chief Executive of the ASA decided to withdraw the ruling “in light of a potential flaw in our ruling”.

Even so, it was reported that the advert ‘Think Horse’ could still not be broadcast in its current form.

The ASA promised that, “Once the Independent Review process is complete we will publish our decision on our website.”

A search of the ASA website today (18 June) has turned up nothing further on the matter. I have written to the ASA asking where to find the decision notice.

Update 25 June 2014: I held off publishing this article hoping to get a reply from the ASA – none there came but others have just reported the ASA have reversed their ruling and linked to the item on the ASA website HERE. Of course this news was welcomed by Cycling Scotland!


Two rulings – one before and one after this incident – demonstrate the ASA’s contrary view on “health and safety reasons” remains when it comes to adverts depicting people on motorcycles not wearing helmets. (Also see my previous article for other ASA views: The ASA rules against advertising safe cycling).

In the UK, it is not compulsory for people who choose to ride a bicycle to wear a helmet, although it is recommended, but it is compulsory to wear a helmet if driving a motorcycle, scooter or moped:

Highway Code Rule 83 (extract):
On all journeys, the rider and pillion passenger on a motorcycle, scooter or moped MUST wear a protective helmet. This does not apply to a follower of the Sikh religion while wearing a turban.

What does the ASA state when asked to review adverts which depict people riding such motorised vehicles without helmets? Hint: the exact opposite to what they stated regarding adverts showing people riding bicycles legally without them.

In 2011, the ASA said the advert for ‘Larry Crowne’ was “likely to be in breach of the Code”.

But in 2012 and again just this week, the ASA relaxed their views on adverts showing illegal activity.

The-best-exotic-marigold-hotel movie poster - no helmets on motorcycle ridersTHE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL

Back in early 2012, the movie ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel‘ was being advertised which featured a picture of two people riding a motorcycle – they were not wearing helmets.

Regarding it, the Advertising Standards Association stated:

We can intervene if an advertisement seems likely to be in breach of The UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising by, among other things causing harm or serious or widespread offence.

We concluded that there were insufficient grounds for us to take action.

We believe that readers will be likely to understand from this ad that the advertiser is merely promoting the film, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and that it is set in India.

We think that readers in general will understand that that the requirements for motorcyclists to wear helmets in India are not as strict or as strongly implemented as is in other countries and that the image of the two actors shown on a motorcycle is representative of a scene in the film.

On balance, we do not believe that this ad would encourage readers to believe that it is acceptable for one not to wear a helmet while riding a motorcycle in the UK, that it would incite people to break the law in this respect or that the ad would cause harm for the reasons you have raised in your complaint.

A year after that is when the ASA banned the ‘Think Horse’ advert which showed people cycling legally without helmets.
The Commitments - no helmet (closeup) - SW Trains near Fleet (resized)


Another advert came out which showed people using a motor vehicle contrary to the Highway Code: An advert for the play called ‘The Commitments‘. It was displayed widely, including on-board commuter trains.

I wondered: Had the views of the Advertising Standards Agency shifted since the Cycling Scotland ruling and its withdrawal?


On 18 June 2014 the ASA stated in part:

We can intervene if an advertisement seems likely to be in breach of The UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing by, among other things, being likely to provoke serious or widespread offence, risking causing significant harm or being materially misleading.

We don’t believe such a breach has occurred in this instance.

We considered that the image was likely to be understood by readers to be related to the play being promoted, rather than a depiction of a real life scenario.

We regarded that the ad did not show the characters driving on the road, or otherwise encouraged consumers to emulate the driving practices shown.

We considered that the ad contained nothing that would be likely to cause members of the public to abandon their usual, safety-conscious behaviour or otherwise undermine their knowledge of and adherence to the Highway Code or the law in this area.

We have therefore concluded that the ad did not pose a realistic risk of harm to readers through emulation.

Ccar-culture is alive and well at the Advertising Standards Authority!

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