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Dutch study has found that listening to music "reduced visual and auditory perception"...

Transport for London (TfL) is reported to have approached an institution in London to conduct research regarding the effect of wearing headphones on the safety of cyclists. Earlier this week, the city’s Mayor, Boris Johnson, said banning headphones was one option being considered following the death of six cyclists in the city.

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.

On Tuesday, in an interview with BBC Radio London’s Vanessa Feltz regarding those recent fatalities and cycle safety in general, Mr Johnson said: "I'm very alarmed about cyclists wearing headphones. I would not be against a prohibition or ban on cyclists wearing headphones.

“Call me illiberal but it makes me absolutely terrified to see them bowling along unable to hear the traffic."

Mr Johnson’s remarks saw him come under heavy criticism from cycling campaigners, who said he should be focusing instead on issues such as infrastructure including junction design, as well as a potential rush-hour ban on lorries, involved in a disproportionate number of cyclist fatalities in London, including three this month.

It is a topic he had previously discussed in a Mayor’s Question Time exchange with the Green Party’s Jenny Jones in 2011, when she asked him about pedestrian casualties in London.

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.”

In the wake of Mr Johnson's comments this week, Mike Cavenett of the London Cycling Campaign told the BBC: "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."

It is an issue that divides cyclists, as can be seen in the comments to our story on Tuesday about Mr Johnson’s remarks.

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."

It is unclear whether the wearing of earphones is thought to be a factor in any of the incidents that have resulted in cyclists in London being killed or seriously injured this month.

The issue of listening to music played a role in the death of a cyclist is at times a point of focus in coroner’s inquiries and court cases.

In 2010, following the death of 29-year-old Amber Mattingley in Southampton, her mother said that she argued with her daughter about the danger of listening to music while riding her bike. The cyclist died when she rode into the back of a lorry trailer, with a coroner recording a verdict of accidental death.

Earlier this year, a coroner’s inquest into the death of 34-year-old Phil Dawn near Mansfield, killed by a train on a level crossing, was told that he was unlikely to have heard the train approaching or the warning shouts of passers-by.

In August 2010 a report from the AA highlighted what the organisation called “iPod oblivion,” which it described as “a trance-like or Zombie state entered by some people using MP3 players, phones and electronic organisers on the move.”

AA President Edmund King said at the time: "We can't stop the march of technology but we need to halt the 'iPod pedestrian, cycle and driver zombies'. Whether on two feet, two wheels or four, too many people are suffering from so-called 'iPod oblivion'.

He added: "When on the move our brains have much to take in and using technological gadgets means that our brains can't always concentrate on so many things at once. This is when we walk into traffic, don't hear the truck or drive cocooned from the outside world."

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.

65 comments

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glynr36 [637 posts] 2 years ago
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Are they going to take steps towards a ban on car stereos then...

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Rouboy [90 posts] 2 years ago
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I see a number of vehicle drivers and cyclists wearing headphones / ear buds.
Is every one listening to music or are they hands free waiting for that next most important phone call?
How long will it be before the motorists quote "sorry mate I didn't hear you"

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Colin Peyresourde [1673 posts] 2 years ago
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Wearing headphones blunts your perception. It makes it very hard to know if there is a vehicle over your shoulder. If you are having to pull out to move around parked cars into the path of traffic you had better be good at looking over your shoulder to know if it safe. The problem is that most people who wear ear phones while cycling that I see aren't. It is the height of stupidity on a commute.

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William Black [193 posts] 2 years ago
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glynr36 wrote:

Are they going to take steps towards a ban on car stereos then...

Got this from elsewhere:

The law
So what is the law on driving with earphones in?

Well, a spokeswoman from Gwent Police’s road safety division says: "There is no law specifically banning the use of earphones while driving."

However, the use of earphones at the wheel would fall under the Road Traffic Act offence of not being in control of a vehicle, the spokeswoman adds.

"It would be up to the officer at the roadside to judge whether they thought the driver's control was impaired by the use of earphones or any other activity such as changing a CD or smoking.

"If a driver listening to earphones was involved in a collision then they could face charges under the more serious offence of dangerous driving."

Also, section 148 of the Highway Code states: "Safe driving and riding needs concentration. Avoid distractions when driving or riding such as loud music (this may mask other sounds)."

Source:http://www.confused.com/news-views/blogs/blog-is-driving-while-wearing-e...

I strongly believe their should be a volume limit, mandatory for new vehicles and could be used retrospectively for the cars you hear thud thud thudding along the road.

Headphones differ significantly from car stereos in that they are all to some degree a noise cancelling devices (save open back) and cause drastically reduced levels of ambient noise especially in the earbud variety.

If you are driving along in a vehicle, with sensible volumes you will be able to hear a distant ambulance siren, when you put what are essentially earplugs into your ears then add even more noise you are much less likely to hear sounds and dangers approaching from the rear, not so much a problem on a motorbike/car equipped with rear facing mirrors.

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zanf [795 posts] 2 years ago
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TfL ignored consultants over several junctions that their redesigns were dangerous and would result in casualties so what does TfL do?

This!

Its a bullshit move to misdirect people from seeing that they have absolutely fucking failed with their shitty transport policy.

Pedestrians and cyclists are being killed daily and the city is choking with the worst pollution in Europe.

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Colin Peyresourde [1673 posts] 2 years ago
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zanf wrote:

TfL ignored consultants over several junctions that their redesigns were dangerous and would result in casualties so what does TfL do?

This!

Its a bullshit move to misdirect people from seeing that they have absolutely fucking failed with their shitty transport policy.

Pedestrians and cyclists are being killed daily and the city is choking with the worst pollution in Europe.

I get your point about it being the 'tip' of the iceberg and misdirection. But do you think wearing headphones is a good idea?

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P3t3 [234 posts] 2 years ago
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Tricky one, who would deny that wearing headphones whilst cycling in heavy traffic is Moronic.

But its the fact that you have to cycle in heavy traffic which is dangerous, not the headphones. If there were no trucks and cars bearing down on you whilst you rode then it wouldn't be a problem.

Boris is using this as a smoke screen to cover up for his lack of progress and will power to sort out cycling;but a lot of fairly important people seem to be calling him to task (probably for their own political ends though).

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allez neg [497 posts] 2 years ago
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I wear dark sunglasses whilst cycling at night. Its my right to do so regardless of the fact that in an accident I'm the one who'll get hurt.

Knowing I'm acting within my rights takes all the pain away.

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Steve Worland [28 posts] 2 years ago
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Talking about headphones is simply a cowardly political tactic of avoiding talking about the real issues. Sure, distractions and the dulling of spatial awareness can certainly contribute to incidents but focusing on distractions and the dulling of spacial awareness in vehicles would almost undoubtedly save far more lives. Talk of banning headphones is about as useful as talk of banning children in cars.

btw I choose not to wear headphones when I ride but I often wear them when I'm running. I use small Koss over-ear ones which slightly amplify outside sounds too, so you can listen to music at the same time as being aware of bird song, or traffic, or whatever else is around you

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allez neg [497 posts] 2 years ago
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In terms of the comments about car stereos - At the risk of being devil's advocate, just because "they" do it doesn't make it right.

Sounds a bit like the "Our lands" justification.

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northstar [1108 posts] 2 years ago
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Just diversion tactics, cycling with headphones is 100% safe, fight this rubbish.

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northstar [1108 posts] 2 years ago
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The reason they don't want you to wear headphones is so they can try and bully you in their motor vehicles off the public highway which they are deluded enough to think they own, wake up people.

They don't even own their motor vehicles.

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glynr36 [637 posts] 2 years ago
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allez neg wrote:

In terms of the comments about car stereos - At the risk of being devil's advocate, just because "they" do it doesn't make it right.

Sounds a bit like the "Our lands" justification.

I'm not using it as justification for it, I don't agree with riding with headphones either.
But it smacks of yet more victim blaming again, when a motorist has a million and one distractions that as a result have caused deaths (remember the driver playing with a sat nav and taking out a cyclist), that are still deemed acceptable.

If they are going to investigate cyclists headphones then why not drivers car stereos, sat navs, hands free kits, bowls of cereal, laptops and so on...

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northstar [1108 posts] 2 years ago
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zanf wrote:

TfL ignored consultants over several junctions that their redesigns were dangerous and would result in casualties so what does TfL do?

This!

Its a bullshit move to misdirect people from seeing that they have absolutely fucking failed with their shitty transport policy.

Pedestrians and cyclists are being killed daily and the city is choking with the worst pollution in Europe.

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Ridgebackrambler [16 posts] 2 years ago
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I would be in favour of a ban on headphones whilst cycling. For me, my ears act as an extra eye particularly where traffic coming from behind is concerned. To be honest I don't really like wearing a cycle helmet as I feel it deadens my auditory awareness. When you are in a car, you don't need to be as hyper-alert to noise as you do on a bike so the car stereo argument is a fatuous one.

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sfichele [140 posts] 2 years ago
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The example the girl that sadly rode into the back of a stationary vehicle, isnt that just anecdote. Correct if I'm wrong but didnt a time-trialler recently die near Hull because he rode into the back of a stationary caravan, I dont recall him wearing earphones.

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rich22222 [163 posts] 2 years ago
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I've been hit twice when NOT wearing headphones, NEVER when wearing them. You can't argue with science.

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Gordy748 [110 posts] 2 years ago
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To be safe in traffic you need to be able to look over your shoulder regardless of whether you're wearing headphones or not. I would never trust my hearing to tell me the difference between a loud car far away or a quiet car just behind me. Or a hybrid that makes almost no noise, for that matter.

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mrmo [2064 posts] 2 years ago
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glynr36 wrote:

If they are going to investigate cyclists headphones then why not drivers car stereos, sat navs, hands free kits, bowls of cereal, laptops and so on...

I think this is the point, why single out cyclists? All the evidence points to the problem being drivers not seeing cyclists and pedestrians and that is what causes accidents.

I know when i am on unfamiliar roads i will turn off the car radio because i do find it distracting.

If the argument is about safety, why not ban car stereos? why do we allow cars with ashtrays, cup holders, sat navs etc etc. What is the purpose of blue tooth in a car if it is not to allow the use of distracting gadgets?

Why do we not limit the hours minicab drivers, company car drivers etc can do?

If TfL are investigating whether cyclists wearing headphones is an issue, fine. But i trust they are also dealing with car drivers and their distractions...

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sean1 [175 posts] 2 years ago
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More victim blaming.

Is TfL also looking at banning hands free mobiles in vehicles, as recommended by charity Brake?

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

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tarquin_foxglove [129 posts] 2 years ago
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& if TfL pass this law (?!) banning headphones they are effectively saying "Sorry deaf people, your bike ride to the shops just became illegal"

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jacknorell [955 posts] 2 years ago
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William Black wrote:

Headphones differ significantly from car stereos in that they are all to some degree a noise cancelling devices (save open back) and cause drastically reduced levels of ambient noise especially in the earbud variety.

Normal earbuds cancel very little noise, though the in-ear type are effective as ear plugs.

However, many cars are better sound-insulated than even those by the simple expedient of closing the doors and windows...

It's been mentioned before, but motorcyclists often ride with either headphones or ear protectors and that's not a significant issue. I suspect that it's less of a problem for a cyclist to listen to music than it is to use a handsfree phone for anyone while in traffic: Cyclists or drivers.

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Belaroo [44 posts] 2 years ago
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glynr36 wrote:

Are they going to take steps towards a ban on car stereos then...

Not to mention ban deaf people from driving and cycling. Utter rubbish. Cars are so quiet nowadays, you can't rely on your ears.

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northstar [1108 posts] 2 years ago
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tarquin_foxglove wrote:

& if TfL pass this law (?!) banning headphones they are effectively saying "Sorry deaf people, your bike ride to the shops just became illegal"

tfl have no power whatsoever to pass this law, for the billionth time, wake up, this is all distraction tactics, they have blood on their hands and know it.

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Belaroo [44 posts] 2 years ago
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Can we just stop finding ways to blame cyclists for just using the roads. Cars reduce all your senses so much more than riding a bike does; you can't see much, hear much or feel much. That is the problem.

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700c [851 posts] 2 years ago
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William Black wrote:
glynr36 wrote:

Are they going to take steps towards a ban on car stereos then...

If you are driving along in a vehicle, with sensible volumes you will be able to hear a distant ambulance siren, when you put what are essentially earplugs into your ears then add even more noise you are much less likely to hear sounds and dangers approaching from the rear, not so much a problem on a motorbike/car equipped with rear facing mirrors.

If you are riding along on a bicycle, with, (headphones at), sensible volumes you will be able to hear a distant ambulance siren.

And as for motorcyclists and drivers - well, does the presence of mirrors mean they not need to hear too?! Any motorcyclist wanting to change position to over take or turn right looks over the shoulder just as a cyclist would. (PS many cycles also use mirrors, does this mean they would be exempt from a headphone ban using this logic?!).

In the end, unless you are prepared to legislate for ALL forms of distraction that may dull your sense to a degree, then don't start. +1 on the various 'smokescreen' comments. Quite right. Sort out the infrastructure and road safety issues first.

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squired [22 posts] 2 years ago
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There is evidence that the noise of traffic is actually loud enough to damage your hearing. As a result, I ride year round with cotton wool in my ears, just to protect them a little. Having said that, on the odd occasion where I've forgotten my cotton wool I will instead use earphones (plugged into nothing). I would actually argue that all cyclists should be using some form of protection for their ears whenever they are out cycling on busy roads.

As for the effects of listening to music... well surely that would be similar to the effects of music in a car? I know that when I used to have a car I didn't like loud music because I found it difficult to fully concentrate. If the evidence is that music causes a distraction the same rule should be applied to all road users.

It would be a shame though if there did end up being a ban on using headphones. This morning I rode in with a headphone in one ear listening to Test Match Special. Certainly not a distraction as far as I'm concerned.

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Mendip James [38 posts] 2 years ago
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So they pass a law which says it's illegal to cycle with headphones in, but currently they don't effectively police cars in bike boxes, speeding, red light jumping, it seems from the lorry stopping exercise a good percentage of those aren't road legal, so the solution is to pass another law which they can't police and that draws resource from policing the aforementioned, how does that help? What of course it will do is give another excuse if someone dies, oh they were wearing headphones, much like, they weren't wearing a helmet, or they weren't in a high-viz jacket. Find this all so depressing.  2

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shay cycles [318 posts] 2 years ago
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A profoundly deaf person is perfectly entitled and safe to cycle or drive although they cannot hear any ambient sounds. Thus hearing ambient sounds (although useful) is not a requirement to drive or cycle on the roads.

I think that distraction is really the issue here and the crux of this issue is not the wearing of headphones but what, if anything is being played through them and at what volume. The exact same issues relate to the use of car stereos or headphones in cars.

For example very loud music may be likely to distract more than quieter music. But then surely playing something like language learning packages or audio books can really involve the listener and may be equally or more distracting.

Note my use of words like "may" and "likely" - I'm not quoting facts here but suggesting some likely hypotheses.

Shay

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mikem22 [21 posts] 2 years ago
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Aren't we, as cyclists, in danger of being a little childish about this with all the 'Nevermind us, look what they are doing' attitude?

I'm a cyclist and a driver. I never wear earphones on my bike, whether that's on a commute, a weekend ride, a sportive or on the track. I don't have headphones on in the car either but I do play music using the car stereo.

The reason I wouldn't wear headphones is that they remove an important sense and you end up effectively handing over a large proportion of responsibility for your own safety to other road users. Given how much we like to moan about what other road users do, I don't see why any cyclist would want to do this.

Personally, I don't see any benefit to my dying thought, as I lay under some vehicle, being 'Well, I think you'll find that I was in the right there' when I could have taken some steps to improve my safety and mitigate the risks of being hit.

With regard to the radio debate, the simple fact is that in a car I am less exposed to sound and less reliant on my ears. Apart from having a sound insulation box around me I also have the engine and road noise dulling this sense. Because of the effect of the enclosed nature, It is also harder to gauge the direction a sound is coming from. I do though have three mirrors pointing behind me meaning that I will be using visual cues much more than sound.

The radio, at a normal volume, still allows you to pick up on important sounds that earphones filter out.

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