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Almost 9 in 10 people back headphones ban and compulsory helmets for cyclists say survey

Support for both measures from majority of cyclists too in new YouGov poll

A poll conducted for The Sunday Times has found that almost nine in ten people (89 per cent) think cyclists should be banned from wearing headphones, and almost as many (85 per cent) believe cycle helmets should be compulsory.

The majority of respondents who describe themselves as “more cyclist than motorist” in the survey of 1,867 people conducted by YouGov agreed with those views.

59 per cent of those respondents agreed that wearing of helmets should be compulsory, an issue that is regularly the subject of fierce debate among riders, and 67 per cent of them said that there should be a ban on headphones.

The latter issue was in the news last week after Mayor of London Boris Johnson said in a radio interview about the safety of cyclists that he would be in favour of riders being banned from wearing headphones.

Other findings of the survey include that two thirds of all respondents – rising to three in four of those considered themselves cyclists first and foremost – believe that lorries should be banned from cities during rush hour, something British Cycling's Chris Boardman called for last week in an open letter to Mr Johnson.

Several things differentiate the YouGov survey from some others we have reported on

First, respondents aren’t self-selected, as many opt-in internet-based polls are, and which tend to encourage only those with a strong opinion one way or another to respond.

Also, as well as splitting out responses by standard demographic breaks such as gender, age, social grade and region, it also divides them by voting intentions as well as by “motorists,” “people who regularly use a bicycle,” and those who are “more cyclist than motorist.”

How does YouGov separate those categories? Well, it’s based on a question that asks respondents to state:

I regularly drive a motor vehicle and do NOT regularly use a bicycle (60 per cent)

I regularly use both a motor vehicle and a bicycle, but I generally use my motor vehicle more often than my bike (9 per cent)

I regularly use both a motor vehicle and a bicycle, but I generally use my bicycle more often than my motor vehicle (3 per cent)

I regularly ride a bicycle and do NOT regularly drive a motor vehicle (4 per cent)

I do not regularly use either (25 per cent)

As a result, 60 per cent of YouGov’s weighted sample fall into the category it terms “motorists” and 15 per cent are “people who regularly use a bicycle,” including 7 per cent who are “more cyclist than driver.”

Asked, “What do you believe is the most common cause of cycling accidents [sic],” 36 per cent of people said “poor standards of cycling by cyclists,” while 22 per cent cited “poor standards of driving by motorists” and 11 per cent went for each of “badly designed roads” and “too many lorries and other large vehicles on the roads.”

Analysis of police reports in incidents in which cyclists were killed or injured carried out by the Transport Research Laboratory in 2009 found that reckless riding was responsible for only a small percentage of collisions, with police attributing blame to the motorist in around three out of four cases.

As happened across most of the questions, there was a polarity in responses among those considering themselves cyclists or drivers.

Some 41 per cent of motorists blamed poor standards of cycling, and just 20 per cent driving; among regular bike riders, 20 per cent said cyclists were to blame and 30 per cent drivers, and there was an even greater gap among those defined as more cyclist than motorist – 13 per cent versus 36 per cent.

Other responses highlight that different perceptions of road safety exist depending on whether you’re more used to being behind the steering wheel or on the saddle of a bike.

Only 1 per cent of motorists thought badly designed roads are the most common cause of cycling accidents, but that rose to 9 per cent of regular cyclists and 14 per cent of those who are more cyclist than motorist.

Bad upkeep of roads (e.g. potholes) was thought to be a factor by 4 per cent of motorists, but 8 per cent of regular cyclists and 10 per cent of those who are more cyclist than motorist; conversely, drivers were much more likely to see pedestrians as being to blame for cycling accidents than cyclists were, at 11 per cent versus 6 per cent of regular cyclists and 5 per cent of people who are more cyclist than motorist.

Other questions addressed issues including whether sentences for both drivers and cyclists breaking road laws are tough enough, presumed liability, publishing accident data and details of accident blackspots online, increasing the number of cycle lanes, and whether there should be early-start traffic lights for cyclists.

You can find the complete results of the YouGov survey, including the full breakdown of responses by demographic groups and voting intentions, here.

Simon has been news editor at since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.

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