A regional press ad, for a transport policy campaign group, which also appeared on a social networking page for the organisation, included the claims "Casualties rise by more than 20% on 20mph roads The number of casualties on 20mph roads in Great Britain rose by 20% in 2013, recent Government figures show. A total of 437 people were seriously injured and 2,721 slightly injured in 2013 compared with 339 and 2,286 in 2012. However, the number of deaths in 2013 was six compared to nine in 2012. The number of all casualties rose from 2,634 in 2012 to 3,164 in 2013, which is a 20% increase in one year. The number of injuries on roads with 30mph and 40mph speed limits decreased in 2013. Why has the number of casualties risen in roads where the 20mph limit is supposed to increase safety?" The word "risen" was in bold text.
The ASA received four complaints, from Bricycles, Brighton & Hove City Council and two members of the public:
The complainants, who understood there had been an increase in the number of roads with a 20 mph speed limit during 2013, challenged whether the ad was misleading.
Unchain the Brighton Motorist said the ad quoted directly from a report by the Department for Transport (DfT), which was the latest in a series of annual reports on road traffic accident statistics. They submitted the statistics, explaining how they believed different aspects of the data supported the various claims in the ad, and said the ad made clear the source of the information was the government, not Unchain the Brighton Motorist. No conclusions were drawn in the ad about the quoted statistics and they had taken care not to imply causation, but instead posed an open question and invited readers to submit views on what they thought the conclusion might be. The ad was intended to stimulate debate and the responses they had subsequently received expressed views both for and against 20 mph speed limits.
Unchain the Brighton Motorist said it was debateable whether 20-mph limits, as opposed to 20-mph zones, did increase safety, because imposing a limit did not always equate to it being adhered to and studies suggested cyclists and pedestrians might take less care as a result of feeling safer in a reduced speed limit area. They said there was widespread publicity and journalism about the issue, some of which did draw conclusions of causality. They provided examples of press articles but said the ad did not make any such claims. The ad also did not make reference to any increase in the number of 20 mph roads, although they were in any case not certain there had been an increase, or to whether the number of roads with other speed limits had increased or decreased. Unchain the Brighton Motorist believed that to do so might imply a causal relationship between speed limits and the number of roads with those limits, whereas no research had been carried out on the particular issue of whether an increase in 20 mph roads had a proportionate relationship to the number of accidents or casualties.
The ad also did not break the statistics down according to a range of other factors that could be relevant to accidents, such as the proximity to 30 mph roads, volume of traffic, time of day or weather conditions, for example. While many factors might be of importance in future debates about road safety, the ad was intended only to encourage readers to consider the raw government data and not to lead them to any particular conclusion. While they acknowledged their organisation's name and references in the ad were related to the local area, they said the ad intentionally referred to the statistics being national ones in the belief that evidence or experience drawn from other areas could help inform a local debate.
The ASA noted the ad did not explicitly state a causal relationship between 20 mph roads and an increased number of casualties and acknowledged that it stated the number of deaths had decreased on 20 mph roads. However, we considered the claims' emphasis on the increased number of injuries on such roads, and the contrast made with injuries having decreased on 30 and 40 mph roads, in conjunction with the question "Why has the number of casualties risen in roads where the 20mph limit is supposed to increase safety?", implied there was a relationship between a 20 mph speed limit and an increase in casualties. In addition, we noted that the word "risen" in the question was stated in bold text and that the ad was headlined "Unchain your Brighton & Hove! Join our campaign for a better city" and also included the text "The 'Unchain' group was formed … by local businesses concerned about the impact of transport policy on businesses in Brighton & Hove … We believe that the following issues also need to be addressed … A city wide 20mph speed limit". We considered that context further contributed to the impression that Unchain the Brighton Motorist believed 20 mph roads were problematic, with the implication being that the statistics cited objectively supported their position.
We noted the DfT data submitted by Unchain the Brighton Motorist showed that the claims based on it were accurate but that the statistics related to numerical facts only, rather than considering any causal relationship. While we understood there might be a range of factors involved in the increase in casualties on 20 mph roads, and that there was no official data on whether the proportion or number of 20 mph roads had increased, or on the relationship between that and casualty figures, we considered the presentation of the claims was such that it misleadingly suggested the government statistics had determined there to be a direct relationship between a 20 mph speed limit itself and the increased number of casualties on those roads. We acknowledged that the ad's discussion of the statistics referred to the figures relating to "Great Britain", however, the context of the ad was otherwise very much focused on local issues. In the absence of any explanation to the contrary, we considered readers were therefore likely to understand the claims about the increase in casualties on 20 mph roads across Great Britain to also apply to the Brighton area, whereas we had not seen evidence that that was the case. For the reasons given, we concluded that the ad was misleading.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules
Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so.
Marketing communications must not mislead the consumer by omitting material information. They must not mislead by hiding material information or presenting it in an unclear, unintelligible, ambiguous or untimely manner.
Material information is information that the consumer needs to make informed decisions in relation to a product. Whether the omission or presentation of material information is likely to mislead the consumer depends on the context, the medium and, if the medium of the marketing communication is constrained by time or space, the measures that the marketer takes to make that information available to the consumer by other means. (Misleading advertising), 3.7 3.7 Before distributing or submitting a marketing communication for publication, marketers must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that consumers are likely to regard as objective and that are capable of objective substantiation. The ASA may regard claims as misleading in the absence of adequate substantiation. (Substantiation) and 3.9 3.9 Marketing communications must state significant limitations and qualifications. Qualifications may clarify but must not contradict the claims that they qualify. (Qualification).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Unchain the Brighton Motorist to ensure they did not make claims, including implied claims, about the relationship between speed limits and casualties in future if they were not in a position to substantiate them.