Who: Advertising Standards Authority (ASA); Citroen UK Ltd (Citroen); and BMW (UK) Ltd (BMW)
When: 02 August 2017
Law stated as at: 31 August 2017
A series of motoring adverts featuring drivers using in-car technology have recently been considered by the ASA. The complainants alleged in each case that the ads were irresponsible and promoted dangerous or irresponsible driving prejudicial to safety and in breach of the legal requirements of the UK’s Highway Code.
The ASA ultimately decided not to uphold any of the complaints. Keeping in mind the often contentious issue of motoring safety, these cases provide valuable insight into the regulator’s approach to in-car tech.
Citroen C3 connected cam
The most recent ruling, published on 2 August 2017, looked at a TV and radio ad for the Citroen C3 which features a built-in camera. The camera is located just behind the rear-view mirror and can be operated by pressing a button in the car.
The TV ad showed a male driver taking a series of photos and sending them to a woman to spell out “Marry me?” The ad did not show the driver sending photos on his phone while driving, but did appear to show the driver taking some photos while the car was moving slowly.
In the radio ad a passenger spots a famous person on the street and points them out to the driver, but warns the driver to keep “Eyes on the road” and “Don’t look, drive”. Neither character uses the camera in the ad, but the voiceover lists the tech available in the car and implies that the cam could be used to take pictures of people on the pavement. A disclaimer at the end of the ad included a warning to “Always drive responsibly and only operate the camera when not driving”.
Following complaints about both ads, the ASA investigated whether they had breached BCAP Code rule 20.1 (Advertisements must not condone or encourage dangerous, competitive, inconsiderate or irresponsible driving or motorcycling. Advertisements must not suggest that driving or motorcycling safely is staid or boring) or rule 20.2 (Advertisements must not condone or encourage a breach of the legal requirements of the Highway Code).
The Highway Code advises drivers to avoid distractions, which may include adjusting the radio or using other in-vehicle multi-media systems. The Code also advises drivers to exercise proper control of their vehicle at all times.
In deciding not to uphold the complaints, the ASA found that neither ad suggested that the driver was distracted or not exercising proper control of the vehicle at any stage. The ruling highlights that:
- the TV ad: (a) showed the driver on almost empty roads; and (b) made clear that, in line with the view set out by Clearcast, the action required to operate the camera was akin to pressing any other button in the car, e.g. adjusting the in-car radio or music system, which the Highway Code permits as long as the driver exercises proper control; and
- the radio ad (a) included an explicit warning against potential distractions; and (b) made no suggestion that by using the camera the driver would be unable to exercise proper control of the vehicle.
BMW dashboard screen
On 19 July 2017, the ASA handed out a ruling on a similar TV ad for the new BMW 5 Series. The ad showed the driver swiping his hand across a touch-screen display on the car dashboard. A complaint was raised, but (having considered the relevant requirements of the Highway Code) the ASA decided that the ad did not breach BCAP rules 20.1 or 20.2.
The ASA’s decision in this case was based on a number of key findings which largely mirror the Citroen ruling, in particular:
- when the driver was using the screen there appeared to be few other vehicles in close proximity and road visibility was generally good; and
- as pointed out by Clearcast, interaction with the technology was brief and required no more than would be involved in a driver using more in-vehicle traditional features (such as adjusting music or the radio).
It is worth noting that, in its response to the BMW complaint, Clearcast indicated that it considered making a call on a hands-free mobile phone to be “more of an involved activity than briefly checking information on a screen”. Interestingly, on the same day the ASA ruled that three Sixt Car Rental ads showing drivers using hand-held and hands-free phones did not breach the advertising codes. This decision was reached, however on the basis that the calls were taken while the vehicles were parked on the Sixt forecourt – therefore, the ASA concluded the ads did not condone or encourage dangerous or irresponsible motoring behaviour.
Why this matters:
With in-vehicle technology likely to be increasingly prevalent over the next few years, further complaints to the ASA on this issue are likely. However, the regulator has made clear in these rulings that the use of in-car technology will not be treated differently to the use of any other traditional system, such as radios or analogue information displays. The key question is whether the technology appears to impact on the driver’s ability to exercise proper control of their vehicle at all times (in line with the requirements of the Highway Code). Where technology appears to distract the driver, the ASA is more likely to uphold complaints.
Relevant factors to bear in mind when planning an ad include the weather and road conditions, whether the vehicle is moving while the tech is being used and the ease of operation of the relevant feature (e.g. buttons or screens which can be accessed quickly and don’t require the driver to take their eyes off the road). Advertisers should also consider using written or spoken warning messages to explain how the technology can be used safely. This will help to show that an ad does not encourage irresponsible or dangerous behaviour (so long as the ad does not contradict the warning message).