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Mayor of London also suggests HGV rush hour ban urged by Chris Boardman wouldn't work...

Mayor of London Boris Johnson has said that he would support a ban on bike riders in London wearing earphones – leading one commentator to suggest that his credibility with cyclists “is evaporating.” In an interview with BBC Radio London’s Vanessa Feltz, Mr Johnson also appeared to downplay calls led by British Cycling’s Chris Boardman for London to ban lorries at peak hours.

The Mayor told Ms Feltz that Transport for London (TfL), which he chairs, regularly discusses the issue of cyclists and pedestrians using handheld electronic devices.

He described earphones used by people to listen to music while riding bikes as “and absolute scourge,” and said he would be in favour of banning them.

Boris Johnson paying close attention to the traffic
Boris Johnson paying close attention to the traffic

Mr Johnson continued: “Call me illiberal, but it makes me absolutely terrified to see them bowling along unable to hear the traffic.

"You've got to be able to hear that car behind you or about to come out of the road in front of you," he added.

It’s an issue Mr Johnson has addressed before.

In a 2011 reply at Mayor’s Question Time when the Green Party’s Jenny Jones quizzed him about pedestrian casualties in London, including children, he said: “I am afraid I see too many cyclists with iPods, earphones in both ears, which I think is wrong. I do not agree with that. I am worried.

“Speaking as one who cycles all over London, I see a lot of people using handhelds, using BlackBerry devices and not paying proper attention to the road.”

However, one photo circulated widely on Twitter and Facebook on Tuesday showed Mr Johnson himself using a handheld mobile phone while cycling.

In an article for the Guardian, Peter Walker, who regularly writes its Bike Blog, said: “What credibility Boris Johnson had with London's cyclists… is evaporating. Six cyclists have died on London's roads in just under two weeks. All but one were killed by lorries, coaches or buses. The mayor's reaction? To talk about headphones.”

What isn’t clear is whether Mr Johnson might be in possession of information suggesting that one or more of the six cyclists killed in London within the past fortnight may have been using headphones, and if so, whether police believe it may have been a contributory factor.

Meanwhile, British Cycling policy advisor Chris Boardman addressed an open letter to Mr Johnson on Tuesday in which he urged the Mayor to ban lorries from London’s roads at peak times.

In his letter, the former world and Olympic champion and wearer of the Tour de France yellow jersey says:

When I rode alongside you to help you launch your vision for cycling in March this year, you made a verbal promise to look at the successful experiences of Paris and many other cities in restricting the movements of heavy vehicles during peak hours.

Also, in the document, the Mayor’s Vision for Cycling in London (2013), you state: ‘In consultation with business, we will study the experience from cities such as Paris and Dublin, where lorries over a certain size are restricted from certain parts of the city or at certain times of the day.’

There have now been six cycling fatalities on the capital’s roads in two weeks and a total of 14 so far in 2013. HGVs were involved in nine of the fatal crashes – that’s 64% of the fatalities – despite making up less than 5% of traffic. In Paris last year [sic] there were zero cyclist fatalities.

British Cycling is disappointed that, eight months later, nothing has been announced on progressing this. Now is the time to make the tough and critical decisions necessary to achieve your vision – without that, more lives will be put at risk.

Paris is a safer place to ride a bike and we believe that this is, at least in part, due to the restrictions on dangerous vehicles entering the city during peak hours. London has an opportunity to emulate and surpass Paris and to lead the way for the other ambitious cycling cities across Britain. Let’s not waste this opportunity to do something now. The longer we delay, the more lives will be lost.

Improving HGV safety is a key aspect of our road safety manifesto. My colleagues at British Cycling are willing to help on this matter in whatever way they can. Do let us know if we can be of any assistance.

I would welcome an update on how this matter is progressing at City Hall.

During his interview with Ms Feltz, however, while acknowledging that there needed to be a "much bigger conversation about HGVs" and the risks they present to cyclists, Mr Johnson seemed to distance himself from a complete ban at certain times of the day.

He said that introducing such restrictions could lead to a "serious influx as soon as the ban is over," and thereby increase the danger for cyclists and other vulnerable road users travelling outside rush hour.

As for that statistic quoted by Boardman that no cyclists were killed in Paris “last year” – in fact, it relates to 2011 – it is an attention-grabbing one, regularly invoked to support calls for a restriction on movements on lorries similar to those in the French capital; however, it does need to be put into context.

For a start, the French statistics relate to the area covered by the Prefecture of Police of Paris, which covers 762 square kilometres; Greater London, for comparison, covers 1,572 square kilometres.

Secondly, even the Prefecture of Police of Paris points out that 2011 was unusual, with a spokesman quoted by the website 20minutes.fr earlier this year as saying “it was truly an exceptional year because since 2007 we generally see between two and six deaths [of cyclists] a year on the roads.”

In 2012, five cyclists lost their lives while riding their bikes in the area covered by the Prefecture, including Philippe Le Men, a cycling journalist with L’Equipe, killed by a lorry as he rode to work at the sports daily’s offices.

You can find more thoughts on that zero casualties in 2011 statistic in this blog post published in September last year by Buffalo Bill, who founded the Moving Target ezine.

One other startling statistic from Paris is that in 2012, there were 39 people killed in road traffic incidents in the city, 18 of them pedestrians; the same year, in that area of Greater London that is a little over twice the size, there were 134 road traffic fatalities, of whom 69 were pedestrians.

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.

74 comments

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racyrich [240 posts] 2 years ago
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Headphones? Utter piffle.

The HGV ban is a non-starter. Working where I do off Fenchurch St I'd say most of the lorries are construction lorries. Their journeys can't be made in the evenings unless building work is to become a nocturnal activity. That'll go down well. Even limiting them from rush hours would put a massive dent in the building operations.
Paris doesn't have the same problem as it has a 7 storey limit on building height, so there's no point in demolishing office blocks every 25 years and replacing them with a sparklier new model.

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jasecd [388 posts] 2 years ago
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Well done Boris - deciding policy based on anecdotal evidence and in the case of HGV's, putting private profits before individual safety.

This is nothing to do with cyclist safety but obsequious pandering to the type of non-cyclists who desperately want to see cycling controlled in whatever fashion possible as they seek some sort of deluded moral equivalency. The same people who equate RLJ's with dangerous driving.

Boris never had any credibility to me - his flagship cycling projects were more about column inches and corporate sponsorship than a genuine promotion of cycling. It's clear that the cycling super highways aren't fit for purpose and are often poorly thought out and implemented. He would rather be seen to be doing the right thing than actually do the right thing.

All of us who ride regularly can tell you what the problem is - unsafe driving. If you want these deaths to end then you need to tackle it head on. Instead Boris and the Met give us this victim blaming bullshit.

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Initialised [289 posts] 2 years ago
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So are we going to ban car radios, voiced sat nav devices from cars and personal stereos from pedestrians on shared use bike paths. The same logic applies.

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jasecd [388 posts] 2 years ago
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Initialised wrote:

So are we going to ban car radios, voiced sat nav devices from cars and personal stereos from pedestrians on shared use bike paths. The same logic applies.

You should add near silent electric/hybrid cars to that list. Going by this logic Boris should also discriminate against deaf drivers, pedestrians and cyclists as well.

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pz1800 [24 posts] 2 years ago
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Boris has evidently got what he wants from cyclists, so now we can piss off and die. Is anyone surprised? He is a Tory politician = a lying, opportunistic bastard who, in the end, will side with industry.
I am not a London cyclist, even a UK cyclist, but I was before the days of cycling super highways and insane London construction.

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kitkat [338 posts] 2 years ago
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Good input from Mr Boardman, shame about Paris stat being out but good reporting by road.cc, thanks for highlighting it

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CarlosFerreiro [103 posts] 2 years ago
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Surely the mechanism for appropriate HGV use already exists?
As they are all on commercial journeys there should already be a risk assessment of their trip, considering the time, route, equipment used and other mitigation that may be required to make that a safe journey.
Any serious incident and the HSE should be having a look at whether the RA was appropriate, if it was followed, and the various responsibilities within the companies - operator and client.

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mattsccm [327 posts] 2 years ago
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Some sense, some balls.
Headphones have no place and no need. They do hinder awareness. To my mind they should be considered like lights. if you are wearing them and have an accident they have to be considered. As lights are compulsory during darkness. Its a law. I think that as with cars , cycle lights should be mandatory during poor conditions.
There is no reason not to. If cyclists want to be considered equal to cars then they should lay by the rules.
Talking about others, eg pedestrians, is just diverting attention from an issue that you personally don't like. Its a different issue. I agree that it may be valid but its a different issue.
Good point about a rush once the HGV ban is over but maybe you city dwellers have to live with that.
Everyone just has to accept that lorries, cars and bikes are just not good bed fellows.

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William Black [193 posts] 2 years ago
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Wearing headphones whilst cycling is simply retarded...I can't see the kind of people that would wear them whilst riding wouldn't take any notice of it being introduced to the highway code.

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Goldfever4 [218 posts] 2 years ago
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I agree that there are far too many cyclists (particularly kids) who wear headphones / earphones while cycling, and that it's dangerous.

However I sometimes have one earphone in for satnav in a new area - why should that be illegal?

Also, regarding HGVs, all I have to say is Paris. No reason why they can ban HGVs in rush hour and we can't.

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ironmancole [321 posts] 2 years ago
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Personally I agree with the importance of having all senses fired up and unhindered. Like the drunk who gets plastered and then acts surprised when he finds himself in A&E we do need to do all we can to protect ourselves.

However, the main point is the roads should be safe enough to ride along without the thought even crossing your mind that the 2 tonne lump of metal box racing up behind you operated by a distracted and angry bee is about to shunt you from behind and possibly kill you.

Reality is hearing something like that rapidly approaching doesn't always mean you can avoid it, and if you do have to dive out of the way the real issue remains of not whether you heard it or not but of why you're having to dive out of its way in the first place? This is the point MPs persist in ignoring, instead finding it politically easier to brush the deaths aside.

It always returns to the simple matter of what people choose to do once they're roaming about in their battle boxes and what government will do to force them to play nicely.

To date of course with the obscene history of victim blaming and excuses that government intervention and care really amounts to less than zero.

This government though do claim to be serious about cycling. Bit like sending a clown in a rubber dinghy to aid a typhoon stricken country and insisting you consider it to be a serious relief effort contribution.

Cameron...we see through you you know?

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ribena [178 posts] 2 years ago
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He'll be asking "them" to pay road tax next.

Whilst wearing headphones does seem a little silly to me, is there ANY evidence whatsoever thats its a serious contributor to the KSI's we've had??

I think he's realised he can no longer win over the cyclists, and instead is simply appealing to the anti-cyclist voters instead.

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KnightBiker [72 posts] 2 years ago
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Assigning blame to cyclist again, kicking the victim when they are down is a low act of Boris, he should do something rather then brainstorming shitty idea's that can't be controlled. Bringing down the speed of cars and trucks in town, enforce bike lights for visibility, these are the only two things that can be done short term.

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squired [22 posts] 2 years ago
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First of all, is there any evidence of accidents as a result of cyclists wearing headphones? I certainly don't see how it would be problematic if I was riding to work in the coming weeks with Test Match Special playing into one ear, while someone in a car on the same road could have 1000 watts pumping out into their little metal box.

The last couple of weeks seem to have resulted in all sorts of ideas being floated around. Most seem to be aimed at the victims of these accidents, rather than ways of making it safer for them. For example, on LBC this morning they were apparently talking about whether it should be made compulsory for cyclists to wear HiViz. If someone cannot see another individual in broad daylight (cyclist or pedestrian) they shouldn't be on the road. As for nighttime, HiViz is a waste of time and a black outfit with plenty of reflective material would be far more visible.

If there is clear cut statistical evidence to back any ideas I would 100% back it, but most of the ideas being banded around have no scientific basis. For example, the majority of the recent deaths seem to have resulted from the poor cyclists being crushed by buses or lorries. Having a helmet isn't going to save you from being crushed to death. In fact, for any of the recent deaths where no helmet was worn was the lack of a helmet a contributory factor in the death?

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sean1 [175 posts] 2 years ago
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Victim blaming again.

Does Boris have an opinion on the call by Charity Brake for a ban on Hands Free mobiles in vehicles?

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-24982173

This is something that would actually improve road safety. Bans on headphones won't.

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andyp [1444 posts] 2 years ago
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That's it, Boris. Go for a non-issue instead of the real problems. Idiot.

Unless you're the sort of numpty who weaves around the road and switches lanes without using YOUR EYES, there is no problem *whatsoever* with listening to music. The only thing they could possibly make a difference to is if a) someone is about to drive straight into you from behind and b) you are some uber-skilled bike ninja who could immediately levitate above said vehicle were you to hear it.

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unsliced [16 posts] 2 years ago
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I commute with one earphone in and my anecdotal evidence would be that I still manage to pay more attention than most to the world around me.

Doubtless wearing earphones (plural or singular) should be considered in the event of an accident, but if that's the case, then so should the car driver's choice of listening material, whether the SatNav was on and how many children were in the car.

Operation of any road going machine, motorised or not, 2 wheels or more, needs your full attention and has numerous things that might impinge on that; some within your control, many more that aren't.

I'm going to continue to use a single earpiece to listen to Radio 4 while I ride, if you don't like that, well, chacun a son gout, as they say in the safer streets of Paris.

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Shades [289 posts] 2 years ago
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Your ears are your 'third eye' on a bike. They've saved me a number of times. Removing that 'sense' and replacing it with something that is potentially disctracting (ie music, radio); that's just crazy! Mark Cavendish was asked in an interview whether he'd wear headphones and he replied, emphatically, never. Helmets, high-viz and reflectives can be debated 'till the cows come home', but wearing headphones is in with using lights. I wouldn't wear headphones to walk or jog round streets for the same reasons.

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james-o [232 posts] 2 years ago
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"I see a lot of people using handhelds, using BlackBerry devices and not paying proper attention to the road.”
I assume he's talking about all traffic here - I see more drivers plugged into Iphone-earphone music that cyclists (outside London that is). A rising issue, as more music is held on mp3 players and older cars don't have line-ins.
And don't assume that I can't hear traffic when using my mp3 while riding - how does anyone know what volume it's at? At normal levels (for me) I can hear more background noise than when in a car with the windows up and the radio on and enough to feel as aware as I need to be. There's a time and place for it though and it's just an area for common sense and perspective.

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antonio [1118 posts] 2 years ago
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Ban all drivers from inner London who have mobile phone convictions, now we're talking!

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jason.timothy.jones [294 posts] 2 years ago
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Im kind of lost for words, and I really don't mean to offend, but I have not heard so much rubbish in such a short article in so long. Headphones may be an issue but there is no evidence yet, but what about the hearing impaired, shall we assume they are no longer allowed on a bike?

Further more, you can light up a cyclist like a xmas tree, have them followed by helicopters with spot lights for all I care, the fact of the matter is the cyclist that has been hit was not seen, I dont believe for one moment that an of the recent deaths were deliberate. Drivers are looking ahead, not to the side, and once they have passed a cyclist they are no longer a concern, even on the dullest day you cant tell me that cant see a cyclist on the road in front of a vehicle, the problem may well just be that drivers are not looking for them, or in the case of the left turn incidents, once they are out of direct vision, no longer a concern?

I remember when I did my HGV licence many many years ago, we were taught to always look in the mirrors when taking a corner....they used to say "one eye looking back, one eye looking forward" this wasn't for cycle safety, but to make sure the corner was cleared and the HGV didn't mount a curb, but it would serve the same purpose.

As I have said many times before, there are asshole drivers and asshole cyclists out there, but they are the minority, drivers need to be more aware of us squishy people on the road, and we need to make sure that we make ourself safe, only this morning on the way to work a guy on a bike crossed in front of me without looking, but assumed that putting his hand out as he cut in front was going to save him from being squished...basic road safety just does not exist here....from both parties....I have lost count of the times someone has just cut in front of me with out indicating, or even when indicating, not looking and assuming that because they have indicated, they have the right of way

Rant over, im starting to get really angry, the solutions are simple, as are the people that have to power to solve the problem

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trisc [6 posts] 2 years ago
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Not that I would wear headphones on the bike - but surely the point is that cycling should be safe enough for people to use them if they want to?

Look at Holland, how removing road furniture, street markings and signs and repaving entire streets has created an equal space for pedestrians cyclists and motor vehicles

Its the Mayor's job to deliver a safe environment rather than just legislating cyclists into adapting to a dangerous one. Doing that solves nothing in the long term and perpetuates the status quo.

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VeNT [53 posts] 2 years ago
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tbh he's right! I'd never cycle with headphones in as you just can't be fully aware of your surroundings like that

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northstar [1108 posts] 2 years ago
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mattsccm wrote:

Some sense, some balls.
Headphones have no place and no need. They do hinder awareness. To my mind they should be considered like lights. if you are wearing them and have an accident they have to be considered. As lights are compulsory during darkness. Its a law. I think that as with cars , cycle lights should be mandatory during poor conditions.
There is no reason not to. If cyclists want to be considered equal to cars then they should lay by the rules.
Talking about others, eg pedestrians, is just diverting attention from an issue that you personally don't like. Its a different issue. I agree that it may be valid but its a different issue.
Good point about a rush once the HGV ban is over but maybe you city dwellers have to live with that.
Everyone just has to accept that lorries, cars and bikes are just not good bed fellows.

All hail the motorist! zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

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maldin [120 posts] 2 years ago
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Initialised wrote:

So are we going to ban car radios, voiced sat nav devices from cars and personal stereos from pedestrians on shared use bike paths. The same logic applies.

Exactly what I was wondering. To that you can add the fact that car drivers should have their radios off and all windows wound down, ban on hands free phones, all so that drivers can better hear what is around them? What a load of rubbish. The simply fact is that if you want to increase your survival odds as a cyclist, take as many precautions as possible including making yourself visible, not blocking out surrouding noises etc, but those can only go so far in an environment where the actual threat itself (motorised vehicles) is not being better managed, often is indifferent to cyclist safety and in some cases is blatantly agressive towards them (I am still staggered that the police would act if I walked down a road taking swipes at pedestrians with my baseball bat, yet seem not to be bothered by motorists doing the same with their cars to cyclists). I was fully aware of the presence of the car that hit me from behind whilst illegally over taking (though technically, as they didn't cross the centre line, they didn't overtake, they merely squeezed past me at 50mph), but that didn't stop him hitting me and continuing to drive, perhaps not even realising he had swiped me numous times with his caravan (and no, I didn't go to the police because I had nothing except the colour of the car to go on, so what's the point? I was too busy trying not to go under his caravan or the following cars' wheels to notice the reg no.). If Borris thinks this is the way to create safer streets, then he appears to have his priorities wrong, unless his priorities are based on ease of enforcement rather than life saving changes, in which case he is bang on the money.

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maldin [120 posts] 2 years ago
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double post

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Joeinpoole [439 posts] 2 years ago
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Excellent, well-balanced reporting Simon.

I sometimes wear in-ear headphones when cycling. With the radio on quietly, listening to TMS for example, it's no problem at all to be fully aware of your surroundings. Vehicular traffic is actually really noisy __ much, much louder than the level I have my headphones at.

The wind blowing across your ears is also incredibly noisy too. I only became aware of just how utterly deafening a crosswind is by wearing headphones because it drowns them out entirely.

If we are going to ban headphones then we also need to ban cycling in conditions in which cyclists could be affected by crosswinds too. They affect your ability to hear what's around you much more.

I know Boris isn't making much sense on this issue (so far) but overall I can't think of anyone in recent history who has done more to promote cycling generally and especially cycling in London. He cycles himself (properly too, without the ministerial Jag behind him), introduced the 'Boris bike' scheme and is genuinely investing significant amounts in cycling infrastructure. Unfortunately we are having to come from 40 years behind that of other European countries and also overcome a largely hostile public attitude.

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Bikebikebike [197 posts] 2 years ago
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Bollocks to this. I wear open-backed headphones so I can still hear road noise, but I really think it's a non-issue anyway, even if they completely blocked out the sound. If someone doesn't look properly and runs you over, the chances that you will be able to leap out the way with some noise-induced spider-sense are miniscule. (Unless you are actually Spiderman, in which case thanks for your crime-fighting work, and good luck in court trying to get access to your kids).

I think more of an issue is that most cars I see (especially private hire) have at least two screens on the dashboard (usually sat-nav plus a phone in a holder on the windscreen) to distract them. WTF is going on with that?

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leguape [43 posts] 2 years ago
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EU headphone volume limit = 85dB. HGV or bus at 10ft = 90dB. Busy street noise is usually between 70 and 80dB and remains pretty much constant.

Roughly, decibel level drops 6dB with doubling of distance. So a bus 40ft away is possibly inaudible above street noise and at 20ft only marginally louder than the surrounding noise.

And being able to hear a vehicle emerging from a side street or approaching behind you? Sound travels in relatively straight lines, so the noise of the vehicle is reflected off objects either side and is projected according to the angle and distance of reflection. So basically into the space opposite the exit and then back off that at lower levels to a wider arc. That's assuming regular, single source sound and constant reflective surfaces. Good luck finding that in a streetscape while in motion.

So if you switch on the EU limiter and knock it down a couple of notches on generic iPod headphone, you should be able to hear vehicles at 40ft. Oh did I mention Honda say that their 2013 Accord is so well soundproofed that it reduces ambient noise down to 50-odd dB. So basically, you've got naff all chance of hearing that car emerging at speed from a sidestreet. But you can't avoid addressing politic points with vehicular soundproofing now can you?

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kie7077 [858 posts] 2 years ago
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You'd save more lives banning motorists from wearing ear plugs because they're nattering on the phone and not paying proper attention to the roads.

Ban all phone conversations whilst vehicle is not parked.

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