Lord Scott of Foscote has called for a ban on cyclists using ‘earplugs’, arguing ‘a cyclist’s main protection should be his or her own eyes and ears,’ reports the Evening Telegraph. In response, transport minister Baroness Kramer was keen to emphasise that there are a wide variety of actions which can be taken to improve the safety of cyclists.
Independent crossbencher Lord Scott, who regularly cycles to Westminster himself, told peers at question time how he was ‘appalled’ at the number of cyclists he saw using ‘earplugs’.
“Does the Minister agree that a cyclist’s main protection should be his or her own eyes and ears? The eyes are there to warn against impending danger from the front and the ears ought to assist in identifying impending danger from behind."
He then argued that regulations should dictate that cyclists cannot use earphones.
“If they listen to music, they cannot possibly hear any danger approaching from behind. There are regulations to ensure the use of lights on bicycles in dark or dingy weather. Should there not also be a regulation to prevent the highly dangerous practice to which I have referred?”
Transport minister Baroness Kramer said it was important for everyone to do all they could to improve cycle safety and pointed to segregated cycle paths and HGV design as being key areas. However, when later pressed for an answer to the headphones question specifically by Lord Butler of Brockwell, she responded:
“My Lords, enforceability is always absolutely crucial. I hesitate to tell cyclists exactly what they should do when there is so much scope for us to make improvements in other areas, and I suggest that we pursue those.”
In 2013, London Mayor Boris Johnson said that he would not be against a headphone ban for cyclists while 90 per cent of respondents to a BBC survey the following year were in favour. At the time, Mike Cavenett of the London Cycling Campaign responded to Johnson by saying: "I'd like to know what kind of evidence base the mayor is using. I'm not aware of a single fatality where headphones were implicated."
One of the issues there is that even where the use of earphones is mentioned in a coroner’s report, it is rare that it can be proven to have been a contributory factor. The inquest into the death of 15-year-old Callum Wilkinson in November is one recent example with Assistant Deputy Coroner of Nottinghamshire, Maria Mulrennan, saying:
“I note that Callum usually cycled whilst listening to music. And it would appear from the evidence that he was doing so at the time of the collision. Whether he was distracted or unaware of the approach of Miss Howson’s vehicle is unclear.”
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" in cyclists.
While ‘very large’ negative effects were found when in-earbuds were used, no negative effects were found when listening to music using only one earbud. There is also said to be no clear evidence that bans on wearing headphones in Quebec or Florida has reduced the number of cyclists killed in those areas.