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TfL said to have approached researchers over headphones and cyclist safety

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."

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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