Government 'will not legislate' for Mayor of London's cyclist headphone ban

Source says banning headphones makes no sense - as deaf people wouldn't be safe cycling either

by Sarah Barth   November 30, 2013  

Cyclist with headphones (cc licensed by Adrian Midgley on Flickr)

The Department for Transport ‘has no plans’ to legislate for the Mayor of London Boris Johnson’s mooted headphone ban, saying that would mean deaf people should not cycle either.

A spokesman for the mayor told Local Transport Today (£) that the earphone ban would require legislation.
But the DfT said there was already advice in the Highway Code for both cyclists and driver to avoid distractions, and careless cyclists could be stopped by the police if they had concerns.

At Mayor’s Question Time, Boris said: “It may be that as part of the safer lorry zone we will insist on lorries having an audible ‘I’m turning left, I’m turning left’ function,” he said. “It would also be useful if cyclists could hear that function – that’s why I made the point that I do about things in your ears. I think it is dangerous to have cyclists having headphones on whilst they cycle.”

He added: “It’s entirely reasonable of us to focus on what we can do to make HGVs safer but I think that people would also feel that the conversation was inadequate if we didn’t draw attention to the additional responsibility of cyclists to be sensible and to obey the rules of the road. If you seriously disagree with that then I think you need your head examined.”

The Mayor was involved in an exchange with the Green Assembly Member Jenny Jones, who said the capital was not getting any safer for cyclists.

She criticised the Mayor’s record, saying: “In 2008 when you were first elected on average a cyclist could do over 400,000 cycle trips before being killed or seriously injured. In 2011 three years after your smoothing the traffic flow and changing traffic lights and so on, the average cyclist could only make 364,000 trips before being killed or seriously injured.

“You pretend to be a fan of cycling and stick up for it, but all you do in my opinion is try to terrify people about the state of our roads. Of course there is a risk in cycling. What we are doing is reducing that risk.”

The news that there will not be anti-headphone legislation comes after a Sunday Times poll we reported on this week that found that almost nine in 10 people (89 per cent) thought cyclists should be banned from wearing headphones - more than those who thought cycle helmets should be compulsory (85 per cent).

Meanwhile last week we reported how Transport for London (TfL) is thought to have approached an institution in London to conduct research regarding the effect of wearing headphones on the safety of cyclists.

The Independent quotes an unnamed source as saying: "I know for a fact that a research institution has been approached by TFL to ascertain if wearing headphones has an impact on cyclists' reaction times.

“They need this research because they don't know if it does, there is just some indicative evidence."

The newspaper says that TfL declined to confirm whether it had made such an approach.

The Independent says that there is no evidence that bans on wearing headphones in Quebec or Florida has reduced the number of cyclists killed there.

But it says that research published in 2011 in the journal Transportation Research by academics from the University of Groningen found that "listening to music resulted in reduced visual and auditory perception and reduced speed" and may also reduce the rider’s stability.

The study concluded: "Negative effects are very large when in-earbuds are used. Negative effects of high volume and fast tempo on auditory perception were found.”

However, it added: “No negative effects were found when listening to music using only one earbud."

20 user comments

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Why do people presume that any cyclist that is wearing headphones has the volume maxed out to 2unlimted's greatest hits. If I am cycling by my self either commuting or for fun, and have remembered to charge the various necessary bits then I listen to a range of podcast, they don't especially interfere with me being able to hear other noises, certainly no worse than wearing a helmet and the wind buffeting.

So could people just give the banning of stuff a rest, empowering people to make responsible decision based on their own circumstances is a much better way.

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posted by skivandal [9 posts]
30th November 2013 - 9:42

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OMG we are almost making it a good thing to have people using earphones now - backfire!

There is no way that we could expect someone to listen to the 'correct' type of sound entertainment or use the correct volume either, thatd be like saying its okay to use a phone if you limit the call to urgent stuff only....yea right.

Comparing using earphones to people with hearing difficulties is a low blow too - typical of the government that run the country into the ground.
If you live with hearing difficulties, id say you are a lot more aware of youre surroundings than a cyclist without difficulties or earphones. Its something you tune yourself to do due to living with a constant level of impaired-ability.
You dont use earphones constantly nor cycle constantly either so its no comparison. Cheap shot.

Whilst this shouldnt deflect from the issues surrounding road planning and including all types of transport - whilst we are on the subject, earphones should be banned - its idiocy.

I wouldnt ride my motorbike in traffic listening to music/phonecalls/podcasts etc for the same reason - even my earplugs are the type that allow a level accoustics non-restrictive of traffic noise.

posted by Farky [177 posts]
30th November 2013 - 10:17

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Someone in the Civil Service with common sense, surely some mistake Applause

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posted by Hamster [72 posts]
30th November 2013 - 11:02

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There are two sides to this debate, as both the cyclist and the motorist have responsibility for ensuring that all parties are kept safe. I am not taking up the defense of the motorist, because in a lot of cases they are equally to blame for a lack of appreciation of cyclists rights on the road, but they do often get hammered because a cyclist has not taken due care and attention.

However, cyclists need to understand that by wearing headphones, they are threatening their spacial awareness of vehicles and road conditions around them, and as such could quite easily put themselves in the firing line from motorist as well.

I am astounded that the DfT have put their proverbial heads in the sand, when motorists were considered a road threat by using mobile phones, new legislation was introduced (despite the same advice covering this off in the Highway Code), and yet they have vetoed any potential earphone legislation.

I hope that there is a change of heart in the high up echelons at Whitehall, and I also hope that both cyclists and motorists appreciate each other's responsibilities.

posted by 8o8 finch@m [18 posts]
30th November 2013 - 11:02

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The mobile phone analogy is flawed. That's about, primarily, control rather than awareness, hence why bluetooth is permitted but holding the phone is not.

Cycling is about awareness. But let's not forget here what cycling with headphones is stopping you doing. If we ignore the idiot who crossed the train track without looking, it's primarily about not hearing what's behind you. So, for example, people blithely turn right without checking over their shoulder. In such circumstances the failure is not simply because of the headphones but a staggering amount of self awareness.

If we're talking about being hit by a lorry that simply doesn't see you while you occupy a space 1 foot out from the kerb then the headphones simply are not a factor.

I'd never use them because I'd never deny myself that additional sense, even if that sense is "brace for impact." But the argument is over simplified.

posted by bendertherobot [249 posts]
30th November 2013 - 11:17

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Never mind all the evidence. Let's ban something.

posted by Ush [377 posts]
30th November 2013 - 15:42

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How many deaths or serious injuries are accredited to headphone wearing?

posted by IanW1968 [133 posts]
30th November 2013 - 16:15

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Is the traffic noise (that motorists are so comfortably shielded from) in cities at or above a level where, if it were in a workplace, it would be deemed unacceptable?

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posted by andylul [411 posts]
30th November 2013 - 17:12

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At least the DfT seem to have the sense to ignore Boris's 'dead cat on the table'. It's a pity not everyone can, however...

posted by congokid [109 posts]
30th November 2013 - 17:37

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What is it about politicians? So they think it's a good idea for cyclists with their backs to heavy oncoming machinery to reduce themselves to being deaf & distracted? Helloooo. Deaf people have no choice and why would they be stopped? They're too wise to wear headphones on a bike anyway.

But if it keeps everyone happy, ban the deaf from wearing them too. Simple Laughing

posted by Driver Protest Union [17 posts]
30th November 2013 - 19:14

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Should definitely ban sat-navs in cars. There are cases where people have died because the driver was distracted by the sat-nav, and wasn't watching the road.

two wheels good; four wheels bad

posted by cat1commuter [1329 posts]
30th November 2013 - 21:06

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Oh, and can someone tell me how the sound of a lorry that is about to run me down from behind differs from one which is going to pass me?

two wheels good; four wheels bad

posted by cat1commuter [1329 posts]
30th November 2013 - 21:08

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I've just come in from cold, wet cycle. When I was half-way home I stuck a fleece cap with a peak and earflaps on under my helmet to keep my ears warm and my glasses dry. It reduced road noise significantly, probably more so than headphones, so Boris should definitely consider a ban on hats. A ban on hats, scarves, cowls, turned-up collars, earrings and long haircuts would also make a ban on headphones much easier to enforce.

posted by bambergbike [84 posts]
30th November 2013 - 21:11

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Is there any evidence that cyclists wearing headphones are killing other people? Until there is the full force of the law should be directed at the people who are killing cyclists and pedestrians on our streets. These are almost entirely people operating heavy and dangerous machinery in a careless or reckless manor. That should be the highest priority.

Blaming people for being run over, is just a distraction from the real problem. Time for change.

posted by Kim [127 posts]
1st December 2013 - 22:19

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Its not just the cyclists, its the muppet pedestrians too, plugged in and stepping off the kerbs with no thought for using their eyes. As a motorcyclist as well it happens on many occasions on my ide to work.

Remember the advertising campaign for the Green Cross Code, 'Stop, Look, Listen', yes that last word is important, why on earth would you shut off one of your senses on purpose.

And since when did deaf people stop using their other senses to a more heightened degree, thats a pathetic argument.

posted by duc888 [30 posts]
2nd December 2013 - 14:21

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"why on earth would you shut off one of your senses on purpose."

But you 'don't shut it off' unless it's at dangerously high volumes, you just add some music to the background noise. Is that any different to wearing dark shades on anything but a really sunny day? Plenty of drivers and cyclists do that also. It's their choice.

It's not hard to see that it's a highly variable thing and a non-issue for legislation. From what I see, my road awareness and actions in traffic when I have music / headphones on are still safer than a lot of riders who appear to be 'fully aware' yet have very poor traffic behavior. It's all about balance and perspective.

posted by james-o [188 posts]
3rd December 2013 - 13:06

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Out of a total of 440 cyclist deaths in Britain in the past 4 years, CTC has identified 4 that may have involved distraction due to headphone wearing - one in each year.

Of these, one was hit by a driver who was racing at 80mph, more than double the speed limit. Another was hit by a train on a bridleway crossing of a railway line. The media report suggests to me that the cyclist probably was distracted - but a pedestrian could equally have made the same fatal mistake.

It is unclear what role (if any) the use of headphones played in the other two, although it appears likely that they played a role in at least one of them.

What we don't yet have is any comparable figures for pedestrians.

There is some Dutch evidence suggesting that cyclists are more at risk when wearing headphones, by c40%. However, what this doesn’t tell us is whether cyclists are any more at risk from wearing headphones than pedestrians are, and therefore whether headphone-wearing is any more problematic for cycling than for crossing the road.

In the absence of better evidence, CTC’s view is that headphone wearing is inadvisable, particularly if listening at high volumes and/or using headphones that completely shut out external sound. However, the idea that headphone-wearing cyclists are any more of a "scourge" than headphone-wearing pedestrians is not borne out by any evidence CTC knows of.

Roger Geffen
Campaigns & Policy Director, CTC

posted by Roger Geffen [30 posts]
3rd December 2013 - 21:37

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If I couldn't listen to music while cycling then what would be the point of going for a ride, I'd give up cycling and drive instead. Simple as that. I love cycling but not as much as I love music. I couldn't give a damn what all you anal "ban headphones" idiots think either.


posted by jazzdude [59 posts]
4th December 2013 - 1:06

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IanW1968 wrote:
How many deaths or serious injuries are accredited to headphone wearing?

[[[[ What?? I see 17 people have clicked on "I agree". You are agreeing to
...a question. So, what are you all agreeing to?


posted by PhilRuss [268 posts]
6th December 2013 - 16:25

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PhilRuss wrote:
IanW1968 wrote:
How many deaths or serious injuries are accredited to headphone wearing?

[[[[ What?? I see 17 people have clicked on "I agree". You are agreeing to
...a question. So, what are you all agreeing to?

Presumably they are agreeing that that is the crucial question that those suggesting a headphone ban ought to have an answer to if they want anyone to pay any attention.
Or they are taking it as a purely rhetorical question with the answer already known to be 'hardly any'.

Hope this helps.

posted by FluffyKittenofT... [626 posts]
6th December 2013 - 20:26

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