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Should Using Headphones While Cycling be Banned?

Does riding with headphones in affect your ability to ride safely on the road?

The question of whether cyclists should be banned from wearing headphones while riding is an issue that is raised regularly, often by those who believe that it impairs the ability of the cyclist to safely navigate the road environment.

Mayor of London Boris Johnson has himself stated that it is something he would consider, saying “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.”

It is one of the issues that’s frequently brought up in the aftermath of cycling fatalities, and in particular after the spate of deaths in the autumn of 2013 – although interestingly headphones were not implicated in having played any part in those incidents.

Others view such opinions as an attempt to blame those traffic accidents on the behaviour of the cyclists themselves, despite the fact that the other factors have long been recognised as a major issues for cycle safety. Amongst these are the road infrastructure of big cities such as London, and heavy goods lorries with inadequate safety features.

So is there any evidence that cycling with headphones impairs cyclists judgement? Actually, yes – but just one study.

Conducted in the Netherlands by the University of Groningen, the study on 25 participants looked at the effect of listening to music while cycling. It found that using in-ear headphones or ear buds had a big impact in the cyclists ability to hear auditory cues. Interestingly, it found participants using just one ear bud reacted normally.

It’s an interesting starting point, but with only 25 people taking part in the study it’s not big enough to draw strong conclusions. Also, cycling in the Netherlands is a different kettle of fish to cycling in the UK as those who are familiar with the ‘Love London, Go Dutch’ campaign of the London Cycling Campaign can attest to.

It now seems that Transport for London may have commissioned further research themselves, according to an article in the Telegraph late last year.

Riding with headphones has been outlawed in several states in the US and Canada, though in some states cyclists may ride so long as one ear is uncovered. But would legislation such as this in the UK discourage more people from what is, after all, a very safe mode of transport.

Over to you. What are you thoughts on the matter? Should cycling with headphones in be banned?

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