IPod wearing cyclists identified as new road menace - head of AA calls for action!

CTC says choice should be left to individual and eyesight more important than hearing

by Simon_MacMichael   November 30, 2009  

iPod

Like using a helmet or jumping red lights, the issue of wearing headphones while riding is one that divides cyclists, prompting heated discussion from those in favour and those against listening to music while on their bikes whenever the issue is raised.

Now, motorists’ organisation the AA has added its voice to the debate, with its president Edmund King - himself a keen cyclist - calling on the Department for Transport (DfT) to warn cyclists about the dangers of listening to MP3 players while cycling, according to a report in The Sunday Times, which quoted him as saying: “They’re meant to be mobile, but if you are cycling, you need all your senses about you.”

But the cyclist campaign group CTC says that the choice of whether or not to listen to music while riding should be left to the individual and that eyesight was much more important than hearing when it came to awareness of traffic, with a spokesperson commenting: “We encourage deaf people to cycle so we don’t think it’s essential to hear traffic in order to ride. You have to be sensible. The most important thing is that you look around you all the time — especially over your shoulder.”

Meanwhile, road safety campaigner Manpreet Darroch, who launched a campaign earlier this year called Tune Into Traffic warning young pedestrians of the dangers of crossing the road while listening to music, disagrees with King that a change to the law is the solution, claiming “you can legislate until you are blue in the face. On the issue of iPods we just need to raise awareness.”

Darroch’s campaign, which he dreamt up after attending a United Nations conference on road safety as a representative of the UK’s Youth Parliament, was the subject of a documentary in Channnel 4’s Battlefront series earlier this year.

Although it is aimed primarily at pedestrians, he told The Sunday Times that it was equally applicable to those on two wheels, saying: “It’s a serious problem which is only going to get worse as the number of cyclists increases — lots of people are completely oblivious to what’s going on around them. People don’t realise how dangerous listening to music is on the roads — whether pedestrian or cyclist. It takes one of your key senses away. People shouldn’t do it.”

Official statistics do not record how many accidents involving cyclists – or pedestrians, for that matter – involve the victim wearing headphones, meaning that much discussion of the issue revolves around hearsay and supposition.

Moreover, even when a cyclist may have been wearing earphones, it is impossible to gauge the extent to which that, rather than other factors, contributed towards the accident.

That problem was clearly highlighted in a coroner’s inquest last year following the death of 17-year-old cyclist Abigail Haythorne, who was killed after she pulled out into the path of an oncoming car that she apparently had not seen.

Police found her iPod switched on with the earphones tucked into the scarf she was wearing, meaning that it was impossible to tell whether or not she had been listening to music at the time of the crash, although PC Mark Howard told the inquest, “'If the earphones were in her ears, it would not have helped her hearing.”

In a written statement to the inquest, her mother said, “It wouldn't surprise me if she had been cycling with her iPod on, she loved listening to music and always had it on.”

This weekend, the Oxfordshire coroner who recorded an accidental death verdict in that case, Nicholas Gardiner, told The Sunday Times: “Frankly I find it quite frightening the things cyclists do,” he said. “They ought to take a minimum amount of care over their safety. It seems to me ridiculous to deprive yourself of what is the second most important of your senses.”

National media coverage of an earlier accident that caused the death of a cyclist, 32-year-old Australian student Patricia McMillan, also focused on the fact that she was wearing headphones when she was struck by a left-turning HGV outside Acton Police Station in February 2006.

However, local residents subsequently launched a campaign calling for safety improvements to be made at the junction where she was killed, which had recently been redesigned, while cycle campaigners highlighted the dangers of riding on the inside of HGVs, which account for a disproportionate number of cyclist fatalities.

News of King’s remarks about the supposed menace posed by cyclists listening to music comes just days after a survey conducted by the Association of British Insurers (ABI) found that 72% of motorists considered drivers using mobile phones as the biggest danger on the country’s roads.

Commenting on that survey, the AA president said: "People are right to be concerned about the continued use of mobile phones and dangers posed by uninsured and some young drivers. We need more targeting of mobile phone drivers to get the message out that it is just not acceptable."

Meanwhile, one company in South Africa has taken an innovative approach to the issue. Slipstreamz has two products – The Slip and The Spoiler – that earbuds can be clipped into. Once attached to the helmet, they let the cyclist enjoy background music while they ride while minimising wind noise but allowing road sound to filter through.

So what do you think? Do you listen to music while you ride, and if so, do you think it has any effect on your awareness? If you don't wear them, should they be banned? 

48 user comments

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being a music snob (as well as a bike snob), means i would never sully a bike ride with music that i couldn't fully concentrate on..

Fringe's picture

posted by Fringe [1081 posts]
30th November 2009 - 14:37

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One ear is okay!

posted by tom3668 [7 posts]
30th November 2009 - 15:03

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tom3668 wrote:
One ear is okay!

yeah if you listen to a mono recording and yer stuck in the 50's Big Grin

Fringe's picture

posted by Fringe [1081 posts]
30th November 2009 - 15:12

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Regarding deaf people - they're used to not being able to hear and used to looking round to see what's coming.

Dasy - my hearing's not been the same since I saw Motorhead and Tenpole Tudor (remember them?) in the same week, errr, a long time ago. My left ear suffered badly and I rely on the right - another reason I wouldn't wear an iPod while riding one of my bicycles or my motorbike. One of the guys in the BMX club wears his iPod on the track but then you're not looking over your shoulder there - still think he's nuts though.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [1941 posts]
30th November 2009 - 15:22

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Quote:
One ear is okay!

try listening to Lenny Kravitz through one ear and one entire guitar will be missing Big Grin

Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7036 posts]
30th November 2009 - 15:22

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Quote:
Tenpole Tudor

over the hill with the swords of a thousand men! i remember that track being on the kick up the eighties retrospective thing that i videoed in 1989 and watched about 100 times until the tape broke

Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7036 posts]
30th November 2009 - 15:26

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I remember seeing (well sort of) Motorhead at the alternative aid gig in Camden Lock at the same time as the Live Aid thingy was going on, '85 suppose.

I was really steaming, as was my way in those days, and passed out near a speaker throughout Motorhead and woke up around the time The Toydolls were playing, that may account for my dubious hearing.

I saw Tenpole Tudor a few times too. The best gig of theirs I was at was in Feltham Football club, they played rural punk, and had a group of about 30 skinheads square dancing, I was one of them.

Anti-Nowhere League in the 100 club was another hearing impairment suspect.

Complicating matters since 1965

DaSy's picture

posted by DaSy [644 posts]
30th November 2009 - 16:54

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Anti-Nowhere League at the 100 Club, DaSy? Wow, we could well have been in the same room at the same time. I did some casual work there back in the day, remember talking to Animal and the rest before a gig, very different, um, animal to the on-stage persona.

They seemed to get third support slot at The Lyceum all the time, possibly connected to the fact that the promoter of the Sunday night punk gigs there was also their manager, I think.

And yes before you ask, I've been to Brighton, I've been to Hastings, I've been to Eastbourne, too. So what?
Wink

Simon_MacMichael's picture

posted by Simon_MacMichael [7487 posts]
30th November 2009 - 17:45

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so what, so what, you boring little....!

Complicating matters since 1965

DaSy's picture

posted by DaSy [644 posts]
30th November 2009 - 19:04

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The snowman will also make you happy, he's gonna err..you know what he's going to do.

That's cool Simon, I was often up there or Brixton Fridge (saw Clash there back in the day}, which was an experience for a skinhead in the '80's. Feltham Footbal Club was a great venue though, it was really small, so bands like UK Subs, Blitz, Toydolls, Peter and the Test Tube Babies The Business, etc were really going for it, as the crowd was right there with them.

Killing Joke at the Top Rank in Reading was amazing too, we all had to leave our boots outside the front door, and when a stage invasion got past the bouncers, Wizard, this crazy fire breathing dude blasted us with a big gob full of flames, we soon legged it.

Wow, this is bringing back some memories...

Complicating matters since 1965

DaSy's picture

posted by DaSy [644 posts]
30th November 2009 - 19:16

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Killing Joke - saw them in Edinburgh in the 80s - wild concert. A big mob of skinheads turned up, not sure why, and there was a huge fight between them and the bouncers. The band played on throughout - you could've cut the atmosphere with a knife, intense.
As for the Brixton Fridge, it's very different these days.
Eddie Tenpole is apparently related to the Tudor family (Henry VIII and Elizabeth the 1st), hence the name.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [1941 posts]
1st December 2009 - 10:36

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I had a biker jacket lovingly painted with names of my favourite bands on it, one of which was Chelsea.

Didn't think through the implications of that one the night I decided to wear it on the North Bank Highbury for an Arsenal match...

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posted by Simon_MacMichael [7487 posts]
1st December 2009 - 11:00

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The CTC "defends" the use of ipods whilst cycling on the basis that "deaf people are being encouraged to cycle". Sorry but that is a false logic. Yes, of course, encourage deaf people to cycle BUT that does not follow that hearing-able cyclists should block that sense.

You might get away with it in the countryside but in towns it is useful to be able to hear oncoming police cars before you can see the blue lights flashing. This is undoubtedly an advantage in addition to many other situations.

I have a friend who used to cycle listening to his ipod until he had a serious accident in which he broke his right arm very badly and required orthopaedic surgery in addition to a nasty cut on his forehead. Would he still have had the accident if he had not been wearing earphones? I don't know but he regrets wearing the ipod whilst cycling.

I would urge all brother and sister cyclists to keep the ipod for other occasions. The risk is truly not worth it just to listen to a bit of music. In any case, I never actually thought that cycling was boring?!!

posted by Tom Amos [201 posts]
2nd December 2009 - 19:26

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I don't think ipods compare with being deaf. Deaf people are aware of how to take precautions in the hearing world. A hearing person to suddenly lose this sense will not cope like other deaf people for a considerable time. Perhaps, a hearing person suddenly gone deaf is the only fair comparison to ipod users and deaf people.

It is fair to say that if you want to be safe cycling you should keep your mind on the road, which I'm sure a deaf person can do. Listening to music while cycling is not about the loss of a sense but about distraction. What is the point of having music playing if you are not aware of it? If you are aware of it, then you are distracted. That is what causes motorist using mobile phones (even hands-free) to have accidents. It is not that they are deafened by the conversation, they are distracted by it.

voujan

posted by voujan [13 posts]
2nd December 2009 - 21:41

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Once again it is a case of common sense being required. If you are one that is easily distracted / poor concentration etc., then it is a bad idea. Personally I often wear one, BUT and it is a big BUT, I play it at a volume level in the street where I can hear the traffic as well. If I am on cycle paths etc.. I may play it louder.
I do not get lost in my music and concentrate on what is happening on the road and not what is getting piped into my head.
I find cars with loud stereos potentially more dangerous as not only does the driver not hear anything, but they often distract for a brief second others around them (even that brief distraction can be serious).

Louscannon

posted by louscannon3 [6 posts]
2nd December 2009 - 23:42

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For me, it just doesn't work. Tried it after seeing so many other cyclists wearing earphones (usually sporting aero-bars too...), but I'm not comfortable with that lack of 'aural' awareness. And to be honest I'm probably quite lucky in that I get to spend an hour a day in relative peace on my commute!

That is the point though; its an individual thing, works for some of us, if not others.

I maintain that accidents involving cyclists are almost always due to lack of attention/consideration on the drivers part.

posted by aja_77 [1 posts]
3rd December 2009 - 1:36

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Whether you do or you don't...the biggest issue for me is STOP TELLING ME WHAT TO DO. For goodness sakes, I am an adult and perfectly capable of making my own decisions, I am sick to the back teeth of busy bodies making 'executive' decisions on the part of the majority. The AA should look at spending time investigation why their service is so crap and why it now takes over 2 hours for them to attend a call. HUMPH! Angry

Rode the E'Tape Caledonia - first sportiv ever and thoroughly enjoyed it

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posted by badbunny [71 posts]
3rd December 2009 - 9:02

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I wouldn't wear 'phones to cycle, i'd definitely feel more at risk with one of my senses missing. Have tried it once or twice, but it was very alien to me, and I had to have the music up incredibly loud to be able to hear over the noise of wind and traffic....which obviously completely takes away my ability to hear anything!

I also remember nearly coming to blows with someone on a cycle track who was pootling along and veerging from side to side. I politely rang my bell, no response, rang again and again before spying the tell tale white cabling running up to their hat (no helmet!). Ended up having to get dangerously close and tap him, which must have annoyed him, as after he got over the shock he started f'ing and blinding.... I gave a few choice comments back, but can only assume they were wasted having his earphones in!

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posted by mrpuncture [17 posts]
3rd December 2009 - 9:04

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badbunny wrote:
Whether you do or you don't...the biggest issue for me is STOP TELLING ME WHAT TO DO. For goodness sakes, I am an adult and perfectly capable of making my own decisions(

What, like all those adults who, for instance, decide to use a mobile while driving, speed, jump red lights, pass too close (and then cut you up!).......well, the list just goes on and on doesn't it? Funny, I thought laws were enacted "on the part of the majority". Of course, if everybody had the same idea of what manifests as common sense + the willingness to actually act in a common sense way we wouldn't need laws, would we? Not that I'm advocating legislating against headphone wearing cyclists; not given the current anecdotal evidence, at least.

But, talking of anecdotal evidence......

I tried using earphones while cycling and quickly came to the decision that it is far too dangerous to even consider. I found that I had to turn the damn things up so loud to overcome the rushing noise of the wind (which was accentuated by the particular buds I was using) that there was little chance of hearing approaching traffic. As I cycle in the commuter-hell-on-earth that is London I feel that I must have all senses at my disposal in order to ensure my best chances of survival! I need that extra auditory input so that I can, for instance, hear the unmistakable sound of the diesel engined black cab approaching from behind and assume an attitude of extra vigilance until the potential danger has passed.

I see that there is a minority of comments in this thread by people who consider that their cycling ability is unaffected by the wearing of heaphones. Frankly, until I see some convincing research (similar to that carried out on mobile phone wielding motorists) I'm yet to be convinced of the rigour of their assertions. For instance, ask any motorist who uses a mobile when driving and I'm sure that they will all swear that their driving is unaffected. The experiences of other road users, however, and the scientific evidence have made it clear that this is not the case.

I look forward to the publishing of a relevant research paper but, given the current economic climate and corresponding lack of research grants, I'm not holding my breath.......

TiNuts's picture

posted by TiNuts [92 posts]
3rd December 2009 - 10:22

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Cyclists are often the victims rather than the perpetrators of accidents, or that's been my experience anyway. But keeping all your sense tuned to what's around you can give you a split second to react. The oaf in the Mercedes Sprinter who pulled a left turn in front of me the other week didn't surprise me when he did so. I heard him accelerate fast and from the way he was speeding up to overtake I knew he was an aggressive driver, which put me on my guard. When he braked right in front and cut left, I was on the brakes as he did so. If I'd been wearing my iPod, would I have heard him or would I have been late on the brakes and slammed into his side?

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [1941 posts]
3rd December 2009 - 10:35

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badbunny - feel free to use an iPod if you want. Unlike driving/riding under the influence of drink or drugs or using a mobile phone while driving, it's not an offence. But plenty of people will say, "I told you so..." if, heaven forbid, you're the victim of an oaf in a van like the bloke in the Mercedes I encountered.

Riding in town is like playing Russian roulette. You can reduce the odds in your favour by minimising the risks.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [1941 posts]
3rd December 2009 - 10:43

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OldRidgeback wrote:
Riding in town is like playing Russian roulette. You can reduce the odds in your favour by minimising the risks.

The perfect quote.

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posted by jobysp [145 posts]
3rd December 2009 - 12:13

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i really don't see the point - like TiNuts said, you have to crank the volume up so high to beat the wind that it makes your ears hurt. and it's always raining, which is no good for your earphones anyway

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posted by cactuscat [299 posts]
3rd December 2009 - 14:13

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i ride wearing just the left earphone as 99% of traffic i deal with will be on my right-hand side.

i also generally listen to spoken word recordings (i study Japanese whilst cycling) which has far more empty silences in it than music.

i feel safe whilst riding like this. personally i wouldn't ride wearing both earphones. i just wouldn't feel as safe.

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posted by caketaster [17 posts]
3rd December 2009 - 16:29

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i take my hat off to you sir, learning japanese whilst cycling.. i couldnt even get past third year french when i went to school. but i can ride a bike! Big Grin

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posted by Fringe [1081 posts]
3rd December 2009 - 19:41

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Jobysp- feel free to use my quote if you like, just as long as you attribute it to me!

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [1941 posts]
4th December 2009 - 12:11

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Listening to podcasts of spoken words and not music is, I feel, safe. there is no back ground base music or drums or any other rhythm and as a consequence of this there are more quiet periods. I listen to podcasts all the time when cycling and can here cars and other vehicles quite clearly

HPB

posted by hpb2777 [3 posts]
4th December 2009 - 15:25

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The idea of cyclists being regarded as scofflaws for listening to music is absurd. An experienced cyclist, with a headphones set at a moderate level, can time overtakign cars by sound. Drivers in their automobiles cannot hear a damn thing even with their radios off. How many cars are sold with quiet soundproofed cabins that keep out road noise as a selling point? And with the stereo on the driver is even more deaf to the road. If they are going to try and outlaw bicyclists listenign to music than they should pull the radio out of every stupid car they can find. They wouldn't dare make it illegal for drivers, but of course they go after cyclists. Geniuses, government is.

A sensible thing is for cyclists and drivers to be required to be aware of their surroundings. I cycle with headphones typically unless I am riding in a tight group of other riders, such as on a Sunday morning. While riding on my own it's more normal than not for me to be listenign to music. I have never had a crash from this, but I have had crashes from cars cutting me off, turning across my path, and one nincompoop who broke a bottle on my head.

I would urge that if the law is not going to be applied equally to the driver than how can it target cyclists? And please no nonsense about the cyclist listening to music has headphones by his ears and the driver's speakers are not near his ears. The soundproofed cabin, sealed windows and otherwise enclosure of the automobile more than makes up for this difference, especially considerign the experienced cyclist's general level of awareness compared to the texting or sandwich-eating driver.

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posted by thelonerider [10 posts]
9th January 2010 - 11:55

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My trade-off is simple -

I'm happy to wear headphones and listen to music only when I'm fully alert. Not if I've had a long working day.

I still feel more connected to my surroundings than the motorist in the metal box listening to the radio.

However, there's one accessory that makes the difference, at least for me. My helmet mirror. I can see if anyone's creeping up on me, all the time, without looking over the shoulder or listening intently. It looks geeky, but it makes me safer (i think). Have been using one for years.

I've also recommended it to a deaf friend of mine, who currently hardly cycles at all. We'll see if he takes me up on it!

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posted by PJ McNally [560 posts]
26th June 2010 - 10:34

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As we are the most vulnerable of road users, even more so than pedestrians who spend most of their time on the pavements, it's up to each of us to take personal responsibility for our own safety.

I have no issue with deaf people riding, but purposefully removing one of your senses makes no sense.
You wouldn't impair your vision by wearing sunglasses at night, so why impair your hearing by wearing earplugs?

Ride like you're invisible, not invincible!

posted by Big Softy [9 posts]
31st October 2012 - 16:51

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