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Listening to music on headphones slows cyclists’ and drivers’ reaction times by 4 seconds, says Ford

Research forms part of motor giant’s Share The Road campaign – which last year brought us the ‘Emoji jacket’

The latest news from Ford Europe’s Share The Road initiative – you know, the one that gave us the ‘Emoji jacket’ – is that listening to music on headphones while driving or cycling can make reaction times to hazards four seconds slower, on average.

> "I look forward to being murdered with one of these": Cyclists condemn "distracting" Mercedes in-car technology

That’s enough time to cycle around 30 yards if you’re going at a speed of 15 miles an hour … and of course double that distance for a motorist nudging the speed limit on a 30mph road.

The company put 2,000 road users from France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK – including scooter riders and pedestrians, besides cyclists and motorists – “into an immersive virtual street and measured their reaction times in potentially hazardous situations.”

The experiment was based on a smartphone app called Share The Road: Safe And Sound – one that Ford has now made available to anyone curious enough to try it out for themselves – which gave “a specially developed ‘8D’ spatial sound experience.”

According to Ford, 58 per cent of participants said afterwards that they would not listen to music again on the move in the future having realised how much it slowed their reactions, which were found on average to be 4.2 seconds slower with music playing than when it was not.

Dr Maria Chait, Professor of auditory cognitive neuroscience at University College London, said: “Sound plays a vital role in our ability to understand our environment – we very often hear important events happening around us before we see them.

“While headphones can be beneficial to us in many circumstances, on the road they can block out important sound cues, meaning we might not be able to perceive nearby vehicles or road users, potentially putting them – and us – in danger.”

Ford Europe’s senior Manager of brand communications and content development, Emmanuel Lubrani, added: “With this research we are highlighting an important road safety issue that often goes under the radar.

“Accessible to anybody with a smartphone, we hope that our Share The Road: Safe and Sound experience will raise awareness of the reality of wearing headphones while on the move.”

In 2018, a study conducted in the Netherlands concluded that cyclists who listen to music through headphones or talk on their mobile phones while riding their bikes may be putting themselves at risk.

> Dutch study: Using headphones "Negatively affects perception of sounds crucial for safe cycling"

The authors of the study, which was published in the Journal of Accident Analysis and Prevention also suggested that cyclists listening to music or talking on their phone in countries with less cycling infrastructure than the Dutch enjoy might be more at risk.

Ford’s Share The Road campaign aims to “foster greater harmony and understanding between road users.”

It received widespread criticism from cyclists when it was unveiled in 2018, when the UK launch was hosted by the road safety charity Brake, with Jeremy Vine doing the duties as presenter.

> Ford’s ‘Share the Road’ campaign leaves cyclists unimpressed

Guardian journalist Peter Walker said at the time that “Any campaign which says "sharing" is the solution is fatally flawed from the start. Sure, a bit more mutual understanding and a bit less aggression would be great. But just asking everyone to be nice won't keep anyone safer.”

London Cycling Campaign’s infrastructure campaigner Simon Munk noted at the time that “attempting to chastise both drivers and cyclists in panels creates false equivalence of responsibility.”

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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