where is health and what is safety?

Happy New Year, very late I know, if  you’re following the Gregorian calender, slightly early if you’re Chinese.

The Advertising Standards Authority(ASA) have banned this TV advert “SEE CYCLIST THINK HORSE.”…

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cl_IzodNazY?feature=player_detailpage]

…because of five complaints. They ruled it was…

“…socially irresponsible and likely to condone or encourage behaviour prejudicial to health and safety.”

This is good news for those of us who look forward to the advent of bicycle paradise.

I’m still dream of being a cyclist. My chosen life-partner is a serial horse-owner, so this little motion-picture has particular personal appeal.

Were it not for those five complainants – if they aren’t ‘road-safety’ professionals then they must be ‘road-safety’ enthusiasts – I’d probably never have seen it. Now, instead of season on TV in Scotland, the Paddy-Power-Principal – that getting your promotional material banned is good for business – has given the ad legs. Cycling Scotland, producers of the film plan to appeal. This on-going controversy offers potential for grand, national* exposure.


There’s no rigorous data on the the relationship between cycle-helmet wearing and the frequency or severity of crashes, or between cycle-helmet wearing and the reduction or mitigation of injuries caused by crashes. This marginal issue has been discussed here before, when Wiggins weighed in with ill-considered – and rapidly retracted – remarks following the death of Dan Harris.

As there is no evidence, strong views on the subject are often questions of faith. Messing with people’s faith can make them touchy

Attempts at normalising hard-hats for general cycling offer us a chance to coolly ask interesting questions…

  • Where does the danger come from?
  • Who is threatening who?

..and to assert the main public-health implication of crash-hats for general cycling.

  • If a crash-hat makes somebody feel ‘cool’, fashionable, stylish – and hence more likely to travel by bike – that hat can help them live longer.
  • If it makes them feel ‘dorky’ or freakish, and hence less likely to travel by bike, they are likely to die sooner.

If the ASA are worried about health and safety where’s the roll-bar on Mercedes and why is the driver not wearing a hard-hat and goggles?

The truth that people who ride bikes live longer has been understood – by academics at least – for more than twenty years. There is still work to do to push it into the realm of common-knowledge.

I like convertible cars, they’re not pretending to be practical. One of the draws of and automobile is that it allows its user the chance to privatise an area of public space. A convertible can be broken into with a Stanley knife and is clearly meant for frivolous applications. Choosing a convertible is a step away from the kind of agoraphobia that makes people irrationally afraid of cycle travel when the dangers of other modes are treated more fatalistically. It’s driver may be a victim of motor dependence but at least they’ve decided to get rid of the roof, who knows where that process might end?

Of course demanding the Advertising Standards Authority consider actual evidence is faux-naïf. They are referring to the Highway Code as arbiter of what is safe and healthy and – as noted here before –  Highway Code, the Road Safety industry are cultural phenomena desperately striving for some kind of technical validation.



*A sublimimal horse-related reference for Unionists. Those who favour independence for Caledonia make it grand INTERnational exposure.


these are the golden years


the new 8freight has landed
It’s been noted here – Rosh Hashanah before last – that those of us who choose to travel by bike, in this period in history, are winning. The irrational ‘you-people-are-all-the-same’ opprobrium we may attract, only for the innocent act of slinging a leg over a push-iron,  is – most likely – motivated by a brew of jealousy and fear. The people who don’t ride secretly know we’re making the right choice and can feel the rising tide of bicycle madness creeping towards their toes like a spring tide.

If you rode a bike during the era of the vanishing tribe – before 1992 – then you’re well used to being treated as vermin. If you came in later, during the current era of mixed-messages, when the alternative role – heroic harbinger of better times – was also available, being treated as a problem, when you actually represent the solution to a whole raft of problems, is more likely to rankle.