Brighton and Hove City Council have come under fire from a number of cyclists for a safety poster intended to highlight the dangers of wearing headphones while cycling. Featuring a man riding with headphones on, it reads: “Headphones can prevent you from hearing traffic. Share the road, share the responsibility.”
A number of cyclists have been critical of the message and an adapted version has appeared on social media reading: “There’s no evidence wearing headphones is hazardous but we’re blaming cyclists anyway. Share the roads, take all the blame.”
Councillor Gill Mitchell, chair of the environment, transport and sustainability committee, defended the poster. She told The Argus that it was part of a larger campaign focusing on the dangers of distraction.
“The council’s road safety awareness campaign is aimed at motorists, cyclists and pedestrians, with six different posters carrying messages about the dangers of distraction from headphones, mobile phones and other devices.
“The campaign was launched following road traffic collision statistics for Brighton and Hove over the last three years which show that failing to look properly is by far the biggest contributory factor. As a new administration, we are committed to improving road safety in the city for all road users and will be looking at new and innovative ways to refresh our road safety campaigns and messages.”
However, Mark Strong, a local cyclist and transport consultant with Transport Initiatives, feels that this approach fails to acknowledge deeper problems on the roads.
“There is a huge imbalance in the level of responsibility which is not shown in the original poster. It looks great but whether it would make any difference to the actual numbers of people getting hurt is debatable.
“All accidents have more than one cause and a poster essentially saying ‘don’t be stupid’ won’t get very far. There needs to be forgiveness in the road environment. The system should be able to cope with that and should not be so on the edge that any mistake can lead to an accident.”
In 2013, London Mayor Boris Johnson said that he would not be against a headphone ban for cyclists while more recently Lord Scott of Foscote called for a ban on cyclists using ‘earplugs’, arguing that “a cyclist’s main protection should be his or her own eyes and ears.”
A 2014 BBC survey found that nine out of ten people were in favour of a headphone ban. However, there has not been much research into the effect of headphones on the safety of cyclists. In one example, research published in 2011 in the journal Transportation Research by academics from the University of Groningen found that ‘very large’ negative effects were found when in-earbuds were used, but that no negative effects were found when listening to music using only one earbud.