The Killing of The Horse

The Horse is dead. The Horse deserved to die, but not like this. And you should be very vocal about what killed it.



Long-time readers of the blog will be aware that the first posts were about The Nice Way Code. If you want the introduction into why The Nice Way Code was awful then I suggest reading The Car and The Kitten, but the post that’s more worthwhile reading before this one is The Horse and The Python (and, unsurprisingly, mainly the Horse bit).

If you’re in a hurry, however, simply watch this.


In a ruling today, the Advertising Standards Authority banned the broadcast of Think Horse. If you’ve read my assessment of it then you might think that’s no bad thing, until you read their reasoning (the text of the adjudication is available here and I would recommend reading it; it’s quite short and it includes mention of a pile of information submitted by Cycling Scotland in defence of the advert).

The ASA assessment states:

The ASA acknowledged that the ad was primarily encouraging motorists to take care when driving within the vicinity of cyclists.

We noted that the cyclist in the final scene was not wearing a helmet or any other safety attire, and appeared to be more than 0.5 metres from the parking lane. We also acknowledged that the cyclist was shown in broad daylight on a fairly large lane without any traffic.

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).

To be clear:

  • Despite acknowledging the cycle positioning recommended by national cycling standards, cycling organisations, other organisations such as TfL, and police forces across the country, the ASA contradicts this advice by quite inexplicably finding issue with riding in the middle of the lane, without any strong references to counter those supplied by Cycling Scotland.
  • The ASA also very strongly implies that they take issue with cars moving across the central line (or indeed into another lane), despite such a view being clearly contradictory to rule 163 of the Highway Code – and this in the same breath as citing the Highway Code in banning the advert for the absence of a helmet in the final scene.
  • The ASA is also inconsistent with their own rulings, in requiring cycling to be portrayed in accordance with advisory aspects of the Highway Code but permitting driving to be portrayed without observing such aspects.


Advertising is not the real world

One of the rules which the ASA deems Think Horse to have breached is BCAP 4.4, which states:

Advertisements must not include material that is likely to condone or encourage behaviour that prejudices health or safety.

This, however, is precisely what the ASA ruling is doing.

It is encouraging people on bicycles to behave in a manner that does not afford them space to avoid a collision or a hazard (wait for the very last second of the video and spot the potholes).

And it is encouraging people in cars to behave in a manner that does not afford people on bicycles such space.

What the ASA claims to disallow in advertising, because of its effect in the real world, is exactly what it is itself doing in the real world. Simply replace the word “advertisements” with “adjudications” and the ASA would fail its own criteria.

The ruling is as hypocritical as it is bizarre; not only in its perverse view of what constitutes safe behaviour, but also in the more basic aspect of acknowledging nationally-recognised advice and then either ignoring it completely, or doing so selectively where it does not match what appears to be an entirely homegrown view of how people should behave.

And if the ASA is giving its homegrown views more weight than those of the Highway Code, the police and transport authorities, then they may wish to at least reach the level of competence where they don’t refer to the oncoming lane as “the right lane”, don’t talk about the non-existent idea of a “parking lane” (what is that?) and can consistently spell “kerb” – let alone actually understand the dynamics of positioning.

The roads need you

If you’re reading this, do something. Do something simple. Contact the ASA. One of their FAQ responses states: “we always welcome the feedback we receive“, so give them something they can welcome.

Be clear that their verdict is contrary to safety advice. Be clear that they are inconsistent, hypocritical and unjustified in their ruling here. Be polite and constructive, but request an explanation. Let the ASA know about more enlightened views on safe road use and to point out the weaknesses in their assessment.

It needn’t take long. Fold out the laptop, find a pen, go and knock on their door if you like.

The Horse may be dead, but the carcass stinks.

PS For what it’s worth, this is the letter the ASA will be receiving from me.

Update, 30 January 2014

The ASA has withdrawn its adjudication pending an independent review. If you complained, well done – the withdrawal occurred before I’d even managed to send my letter.

17 thoughts on “The Killing of The Horse

  1. Clive Matthews (@hexhome) 29 January 2014 / 00:25

    Complaint Ref: A13-238570 Cycle Scotland

    The ruling has put cyclists in danger. It is contrary to safe cycling practice to remain 0.5 metres from the road edge. Current Bikeability training teaches many examples where a cyclist may need to ‘take the lane’ (–Part-4–On-Road-Positioning-0)

    I am shocked by this ruling which is based on an inappropriate understanding of safe cycling.

    It is also contrary in that other rulings the ASA have made regarding road safety such as complaint #104397 where a motorist was depicted in an ad for Volvo using a mobile phone. Here the ASA relied on law over safe practice in ruling that it is legal to use a hands free phone. There is no law for helmets and cycle positioning. Just like using a mobile phone, there is advice. In the case of the cycle awareness ad, they have ruled on ‘advice’ whilst relying on law for the ruling on the Volvo ad!

    • Bez 29 January 2014 / 00:54

      Thanks for that info. I’ve added a point to the article linking to the Volvo ruling you mention.

  2. lastwheel (@lastwheel) 29 January 2014 / 00:34

    When you do something like this it would be good for one letter delivered with many co-signatures perhaps after one round of edits. Wouldn’t want good input swamped by bad and potentially over looked.

  3. rdrf 29 January 2014 / 01:01

    Well done Bez.

    Dunno about lastwheel’s idea. The organisations like CTC will be writing in no doubt. What’s wrong with individuals who have a point of view?

  4. Robert Littlewood 29 January 2014 / 10:05

    Do we get to find out who (or at least what type of person) made the complaints?
    My money would be on a) road lobby or their fellow travellers b) helmet campaigners.

  5. Dave H (@BCCletts) 29 January 2014 / 10:29

    CTC is whirring very much at Guildford National Office and a form letter is I suspect already in early draft – by ASA ruling the latest DfT and TfL ads will need to be pulled too and the ruling runs counter to the policy of DfT and TfL on such media portrayals of cycling.

    Cycling Scotland is the body who have to formally appeal but we can deliver support for this, and also complain to the complaints arbiter Sir Hayden Phillips whose receiving e-mail is

    CEoGB also point out that by such a draconian edict the current DfT Think! campaign poster should be immediately taken down, along with most TfL material promoting cycling.

  6. CTC is indeed weighing up our options for how best to respond. Legal actions, joint letters from the cycling organisations, public health experts and other authoritative sources, mass letter-writing… All options are being considered.

    In the meantime, please submit clips of other UK adverts that also ought to be banned in accordance with the ASA’s ruling:

  7. velovoiceblogspot 29 January 2014 / 10:37

    A petition to Sir Hayden Phillips is also now up and running for anyone who would like to do that (AS WELL as writing directly to the ASA):

  8. Robin 29 January 2014 / 15:50

    Only in England …..

  9. David Robjant 29 January 2014 / 16:59

    Dear Sir,

    Your recent decision against Cycling Scotland turns on the ASA’s duty to uphold socially responsible behaviour, above and beyond your duty to uphold the law.

    I endorse this admirable care for the morals and etiquette of the Kingdom, but one point is mysterious in this judgement, and I hope you will be able to explain it.

    What makes it upholding socially responsible standards of behaviour to ban an advert which features a young lady cycling legally along the road, and not to ban an advert which features a man driving a large powerful car whilst talking on the Mobile Phone?

    You allowed a contested Volvo advert on the grounds that using a mobile phone, whilst advised against in the Highway Code, is not expressly forbidden in the law, provided a suitable hands-free kit is installed.

    In that case, your view was that the letter of the law is more important than any wider consideration of social responsibility, including Highway Code recommendations.

    Yet in the case of this young lady on a bicycle doing what is legal in the UK, you decided on the contrary that your definition of social responsibility trumps the letter of the law. Can you explain to me how this obvious inconsistency does not bring your organisation into disrepute?

    Can you further explain to me why you have selected for special persecution as “socially irresponsible”, just those legal road users who, from all statistical evidence, pose the least danger to other road users?

    Can you further explain to me why you have decided to ignore the DfT, the Highway Code itself, and those professionally qualified persons who advised you on correct road positioning for cyclists and overtaking vehicles? Why have you decided, in contradiction of official guidance, that a certain class of users must put the inconvenience of other road users ahead of their own safety?

    Were you, in this case, unaware of the pothole the cyclist was avoiding, as shown in the final sequence of the film?

    Will the ASA be putting forward any of its officers or council members for secondment to the Department for Transport in a leadership role?

    Will you now undertake to entertain fully, so far as to a decision of the Council, all the many complaints now headed your way that advertising campaigns by the DfT and TfL are in contravention of UK road positioning guidelines, as newly devised by the ASA?

    Will the same consideration be given to all advertising campaigns showing pictures of the Netherlands, where, I understand, cycling that meets your definition of “socially irresponsible” is apparently the norm? Perhaps for clarity, you will institute a general guideline enjoining advertisers not to risk public view, in the UK, for any materials involving Dutch or Danish street scenes?

    I look forward to fulsome answers to all these questions, and I hope you will copy in the Film Censors and the Department for Transport.

    Whilst I await those answers, I invite the ASA to enjoy the attached redacted version of your recent decision, and place it on a staff noticeboard while the complaints procedures run their course.

    Yours Sincerely

    David Robjant

  10. Anoop 29 January 2014 / 21:12

    The cyclists is riding so far from the kerb in order to avoid the potholes which are visible in the last frame. This is a nice safety advert, helps to promote respect to vulnerable road users and shows polite behaviour on the road. The ASA is irresponsible to ban it.

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