Transport for London has halted an ad campaign promoting road safety that featured a driver and cyclist making up after the latter was almost hit, following a backlash accusing the ad of “victim blaming”.
The TfL campaign, called See Their Side, was launched during Road Safety Week last month as part of the London mayor Sadiq Khan’s long-term goal of having no deaths and serious injuries on the capital’s roads by 2041.
TfL had planned that the campaign, which includes a 60-second television ad that has already been showing on channels including ITV, would run for “a number of years”, but a backlash has prompted the mayor’s cycling and walking commissioner to pause it.
In the film, a driver is seen slamming on her brakes after almost knocking a cyclist off his bike. At first the pair begin an altercation blaming each other for the incident, before the road rage subsides into a moment of reflection where both parties express concern for each other and ask if they are OK.
The campaign ran with the strapline: “See their side. See safer roads.” It was created by the ad agency VCCP London, which has since taken down a webpage about its work.
While VCCP’s original press release said the campaign aimed to “directly tackle the tribal culture which currently dominates London’s roads” and “targets all road users”, it seems to have instead intensified the divide between cyclists and drivers.
Cyclists and road safety groups have criticised the campaign for “victim blaming” and promoting “false equivalence”, the idea that road users should share equal responsibility for incidents, arguing that the car driver is clearly in the wrong in the ad.
On Wednesday, Will Norman, the mayor’s cycling and walking commissioner, tweeted that the campaign would be “paused to consider the feedback that has been received”.
“I know there has been a lot of concern raised about the ‘See their side’ advert,” he said. “The campaign has been paused to consider the feedback … City Hall and TfL remain committed to improving the road culture in London and reducing road danger.”
The Advertising Standards Authority, which assesses whether campaigns have broken the UK advertising code, has so far received 70 complaints about the ad. Complainants argue that it unfairly places equal blame on cyclists and drivers and shows a car making an illegally close pass on the rider.
A spokesperson for the ASA said the complaints had not yet been assessed to determine if there were grounds to launch an investigation into whether the campaign broke any rules.
A spokesman for TfL said the organisation recognised that those walking and cycling were much more vulnerable than drivers.
“The aim of this campaign is to challenge the sometimes divergent nature of London’s road culture and to encourage all road users to be more empathetic when travelling,” said the spokesman. “We know that people walking and cycling are much more vulnerable on the roads than other groups of road users, and this campaign is not designed to suggest otherwise.”