Blame traffic for accidents, not iPods

Young people urged to protest at next week’s World Safety Conference

by Martin Thomas   September 16, 2010  

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A road safety campaigner is calling on young people to demonstrate at next week’s World Safety Conference in London to protest about the organisers blaming ‘youth, music and poverty’ for road traffic crashes.

Dr Ian Roberts is a trustee of RoadPeace, a UK charity for the victims of road traffic crashes. He says conference organisers are wrong to point the finger of blame at the victims of crashes.

On the conference agenda is a slot setting out music, youth and poverty as the biggest causes of death on Britain’s roads, and calling for better education for young people about the dangers of using portable music players when moving around in urban areas.

But Dr Roberts, professor of public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, says that at the root of the problem of road death and injury is dangerous road traffic. And he believes this is being covered up because the car lobby, which has a vested interest in maintaining the status quo, has such a huge influence on the road safety community.

He said, “We must reclaim our streets and neighbourhoods from the lethal motor vehicle traffic that currently blights them so that we can begin to move our bodies again, in the way that they were designed to be moved. Youth and music are not the causes of road death – wealthy middle aged men who refuse to surrender their cars, or even consider alternative forms of transport, are the problem.”

Dr Roberts got involved in RoadPeace after working as a trauma doctor and seeing the victims of countless traffic accidents. He believes that the de-motorisation of towns and cities will require the greatest human mobilisation in history but that it will usher in a safer and more sustainable society.

He said, “Our dependence on motorised transport has made us fatter and less fit. It has made the roads more dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists, and driven many them off the streets and back into their cars, further increasing the demand for transport. It has made controlling oil supplies the primary strategic objective of nation states so that scarce resources that should be devoted to building a sustainable economy are instead spent on war and destruction.

“We should look to a future where there will be fewer road deaths and injuries, cleaner air and much less traffic noise. Urban infrastructure must show a new respect for humanity. The torrent of lies that has been used to justify the ‘accidental’ deaths of 3,000 people each day on the world’s roads and the daily disabling of 30,000 more, will take its place in history alongside the justifications for slavery, racism and imperial war.”

Dr Roberts is calling on London’s youth to picket the safety conference and to demand a future where real road safety is prioritised above wars over oil. He said, “Young people and music are the future – not causes of road traffic crashes. This is an issue of public space – who owns our roads? The idea that people have to be really careful when walking or cycling around our cities not to be killed by speeding cars is a hideous distortion.”

10 user comments

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The inference in the article is that people using earpieces to listen to music diminishes or prevents a cyclist from hearing traffic travelling behind / overtaking them. Two thoughts:

1. liability in an accident between a cyclist and an overtaking motorist usually lies with the motorist (but is a small consolation if the rider is injured or killed);

2. what about cyclists who are deaf or hard of hearing? Perhaps these cyclists have a better perception of what is happening around them due to the loss of one of their senses but the same principle applies, i.e. they can't hear traffic either.

Maybe the hidden agenda of this part of the conference is to put young people off cycling ...

posted by John G [53 posts]
16th September 2010 - 15:18

1 Like

More power to Dr Roberts.. a lot of sense being spoken there

posted by james-o [225 posts]
16th September 2010 - 15:24


I can thoroughly recommend David Hembrow's blog.

David has a lot to say about how the Dutch have created the safest environment for cyclists and it's by providing an extensive high quality segregated integrated cycle network, so that cyclists rarely need to use the roads. Compare that with our UK experience of a hotch-potch of mostly pathetic 'facilities', which are poorly 'designed' [if designed is the correct term]; go nowhere; are often sub-standard and commonly dangerous to use.

David's blog shows that the excuse of 'not enough room', is bogus using side by side comparison of comparable areas in the UK with Holland. If Holland can, so can we, if we have the will.

posted by Recumbenteer [155 posts]
16th September 2010 - 17:59

1 Like

I struggle to the justification for it to be ok for people to operate motor vehicles whilst listening to music but not walk or cycle and listen.

Surely logic would dictate the form of transport presenting the greatest danger to others should have the tightest restrictions over maintaining concentration.

posted by DNAse [23 posts]
17th September 2010 - 10:05


In the next decade or so, electric cars, vans, etc. will be available for the public to buy. Regardless of whether a cyclist is listening to music with earpieces or not, these vehicles cannot be heard approaching when they are behind the rider.

posted by John G [53 posts]
17th September 2010 - 13:44


Odd how the motoring lobby never seem to think of why licence is required in order drive a motor vehicle. Whereas cycling and walking do not require a licence. We need to emphasis that certain responsibilities come with a driving licence. If people show that they are unable (or unwilling) to live up to those responsibilities the licence should be withdrawn for life! Simple really.

posted by Kim [196 posts]
17th September 2010 - 16:19


I don't agree. I feel that cycling with headphones on is downright stupidity. I can't believe the number of people I've seen cycling and walking with headphones on completely oblivious to the fact that they can't hear what's going on, and just crossing the road without even glancing in the direction of where the car/bike will be coming from!!!

Yes, deaf people can't hear what's going on round them, but their other senses are dramatically sharpened as a result of being in that state permanently, whereas a hearing person blocking out road noises are just removing one of the most important senses they have without sharpening their other ones!!

The same goes for drivers wearing headphones too by the way!!!!

posted by keith_newnham [68 posts]
17th September 2010 - 16:41

1 Like

Frankly, if you're in charge of a vehicle that has the real possibility of causinng harm to others - and this mostly means cars and motorbikes, but can certainly include bicycles - then it is utterly incumbent on *you* to be aware of what is going on about you.

People should be able to walk and cycle around without having to be at a peak of awareness just to satisfy the road-going public.

It's an unproven statement that deaf people have sharpened senses to make up for deafness, and your statement in any case ignores the tens of thousands with some form of partial hearing loss.

timlennon's picture

posted by timlennon [229 posts]
17th September 2010 - 17:04

1 Like

Hearing cars behind me really helps to prevent screw ups but mistakes still happen.

Although training to music in the gym is great it can be dangerous on road.

Why don't people just use a sing ear piece in the near side kerb ear? and leave the other ear to do the work if they must head bang while riding Cool

I like my bike but it needs a hidden 25cc motor Smile

Fish_n_Chips's picture

posted by Fish_n_Chips [380 posts]
17th September 2010 - 18:24

1 Like

Anything that reduces your sensory perception while in control of a vehicle, like wearing earphones and listening to music, is foolish. Having the stereo on in the car while I drive is not the same.


posted by OldRidgeback [2536 posts]
17th September 2010 - 21:37

1 Like