Earbuds on the carriageway?

  • By Stily1 on at 6:08am 25 November 2011
  • Posted in: General
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So I have to bring this up. Who doesn't think it's stunningly foolish to wear music earbuds while cycling on London roads?

What is the point of legislating that all bicycles sold must be equipped with bells, and then ignoring the fact that about 30% of London cyclists elect to block one of their primary senses in the name of anything so frivolous as personal entertainment?

Who doesn't think this practice is stunningly selfish and thoughtless, foolish to the extreme?

Yes, of course, out in the country it couldn't possibly matter blah blah blah. 

It's another case of people taking something that, if done intelligently, would be fine, but abusing/ovdoing it to the point that it becomes a real problem will eventually get it banned, like using a phone while driving. If people had been resonable about chosing when it was safe, we could all still use our phones while driving.....when it was safe.

But people aren't reasonable (or conscious?).


I couldn't agree more. Even more taken aback to see Metal Box drivers doing it especially as most cars have music systems in them aswell.


  • By Stily1 at 12:23pm 25 November 2011

Or slouching speeding delivery van drivers not wearing their seatbelt, but yes wearing hearbuds! Yeah RIGHT.

  • By Austen at 12:45pm 25 November 2011

I don't think it is a good idea, and don't do it myself whether cycling in London or in the leafy parts of Surrey and Sussex. 

However, I haven't seen any evidence that people have been killed or seriously injured by listening to personal stereos; you're much more likely to be badly hurt by a left-turning lorry and/or TfL's indifference. 

  • By Stily1 at 1:41pm 25 November 2011

Look again!

"MP3 players are turning youngsters into "iPod zombies", putting them in huge danger of being killed on Britain's roads."


Personally - I value my life way above a soundtrack! Having said that - there is evidence that pedestrians in London are particularly at risk. If you realy want to isolate yourself from the rest of society by using ear-phones, that is of course, an individual choice. Music through a system that everyone can share is far more fun except conceivably on a bus or a train!

The 'two Tings' code of conduct for cyclists on the canal towpath network is pretty much an irrelevance as a significant number of walkers won't hear you. I'm for the introduction of the cattle prod in such circumstances!

As ever - the many will pay for the stupidity of the few if it gets banned. It's an offense to use a hand-held in a car to phone your wife to tell her you're going to be late while stuck in a 10 mile tail-back on the M25 moving at the dizzy pace of 50 yards a fortnight! Ear-phones might eventually lead to this kind of crass and idiotic legislation which bans the perfectly acceptable in the interest of mitigating against the dozy muppet!

As for cycling in the countryside - don't ya wanna enjoy both the sights AND the sounds? For some stone-hearted people - clearly not!!

  • By Stily1 at 7:22am 28 November 2011

I fully agree about the pedestrians with earbuds being equally or greater fools and sociopaths, but didn't feel that was appropriate for this venue. Not judging! 

When I started commuting in London (at first on PT), my new colleagues told me that in time I would lose all patience for "cripples and pregnant women". This has not been the case. However, those who choose to attempt (and fail) to text and walk, and those who wear ear buds and then act all surprised when they're just IN-THE-WAY-ZOMBIES. Oh give me a break and join us here and now on THIS planet!

Turning rant switch to "off" now.

In a crowded society we all need to compromise and be flexible in order to get along. AND SMACK DOWN THE A**HOLE EXTREMISTS!


Do you realise the 'iPod zombie' term was coined by Edmund King, president of the AA?

Personally, I think it was a very clever tactic to malign cyclists wearing headphones who - let's remember - aren't breaking any laws

It's useful for the AA to divert attention away from motorist responsibility, because they represent the people who cause the vast majority of pedestrian and cyclist deaths and injuries

As Austen points out, there's not a shred of evidence that wearing headphones increases risk for cyclists

And don't many cyclists wearing headphones keep the volume at a level where they can also hear what's going on around them?

As it happens, I've suffered varying degrees of deafness during my life, yet challenge anyone to prove I'm a less competent or safe cyclist than someone with 100% hearing

Until we stop repeating misleading propaganda about road safety in favour of an evidence-based approach, cyclists will never be safe on the roads

And please, quoting The Sun in favour of your argument?

I think I'm going to be sick :-/

  • By Stily1 at 2:15pm 9 December 2011

Criticizing the credentials of the publisher doesn't change the validity of the point. No honest thinking person would claim that plugging one of your primary senses was smart or considerate while using a public carriageway. It may not specifically be illegal, but it falls afoul of the general legal duty to take due care.

You may be part deaf, but no, you're not as capable on the road as a person with better senses. You may be able to compensate, and you may be "good enough", but you're not as good.


I still say that opting to wear headphones while cycling on a public roadway is a fool's folly and should not be done, and I remain stunned at how many people either disagree, or don't think.

  • By Stily1 at 11:06am 6 January 2012


From https://www.askthe.police.uk/content/Q724.htm

"Can I listen to my MP3 or ipod player whilst driving a car or riding a bicycle?

It is not an offence in itself to listen to an ipod or MP3 player whilst driving or cycling.

However, listening to music can be distracting, especially if it is not be possible for the individual to be fully aware of their surroundings. You need to be able to bring to bear all the senses you can whilst driving, and being able to hear is important in enabling you to be in proper control of your vehicle in traffic. Obviously, some people have the disadvantage that they cannot hear too well (or not at all), but the rest of us should not deliberately mask our senses and put ourselves at the same disadvantage.

A person using an MP3 device playing loud music, may, therefore, be deemed not to have proper control of their vehicle or to be driving without reasonable consideration for others, both of which are relatively serious offences."

I cycle with my earphones in all the time and have been for 15 years with few issues. I think relying on your ears to warn you of any danger whilst cycling is a sure way to get killed. Everytime you move left or right you should be checking over your shoulder, your eyes should be constantly scanning for danger and riding with the assumption that someone is already approching fast and close to you. When peds cross the road in front of you, they always say they didn't hear you, had they turned their head in your direction they would have seen you with their eyes.

  • By Stily1 at 9:42am 17 January 2012

Stewart, nobody is saying the you should rely on your hearing as an excuse to not use your eyes. Come now, a LITTLE rationality goes a long way.

And, using your dumb luck as evidence that an activity is "safe" is, well, nevermind!

Optionally plugging *any* of your senses just because you like tunes is foolish and selfish, full stop.

Yeah yeah yeah, toodling along some country path with nary a soul in sight, of course music might be pleasant and arguably isn't enhancing any hazard, but blindly applying that logic to commuting in London? Really? Get a clue!

Your government requires bicycles sold in London to be equipped with bells. Do you think they expect the majority of bicycle users, therefor, to be able to HEAR BELLS?!

And yes, some poor souls are deaf, but they are a far minority, and they know they have to compensate. Not relevant.

While the absolute numbers are small, the numbers of fatalities of pedestrians being attibuted to inapprorpriate use of headphones is getting some real attention:


Gotta love the term "inattentional blindness"

I know at first "glance" my argument might seem counter intuitive, but I still think it's worth at least considering.
A pedestrian may be more likely to be killed when wearing earphones, but all this really proves is that they entirely rely on there hearing when crossing the road.
In this scenario they are essentially blind and deaf. I'd suggest that, had they looked in the direction of the moving vehicle they would not have been hit.
In a situation where your eyes don't work, yes absolutely, hearing would be a benefit, but I'm reasonably confident cycling blind is illegal.
Since I'm sure most cyclist can see, I would argue that you any potential danger or obstacle can always be seen by you before you hear it. Where you can't see any danger, your road positioning should be such that assumes danger could occur at any time, without "hearing it coming".
If the the first sign of a problem is the revving of an engine or the tinging of a bell, I'd argue that it's your "dumb luck" that you have not been involved with more incidents (or perhaps you have)
Now I'm not suggesting that all cyclists play deafening music whilst cycling (although it might be worth doing this as a useful training exercise), but I am suggesting that the safest cyclists are those where hearing has become a very poor alternative to the primary sense of eyesight.

This post was edited by StewartP at 1:32pm 17 January 2012.

  • By Stily1 at 2:13pm 17 January 2012

Clearly a cyclists eyesight is their *most* important sense.

Saying that a pedestrian using headphones was *only* killed because they were *only* relying on their hearing is backwards. In fact it runs exactly counter to your argument, Stewart, because of course for a pedestrian their most important sense is also their sight, just like for a cyclist.

If you insist on using specific examples in a general debate, let's apply an arbitrary 10% weight to hearing vs. sight in terms of "importance".

I say it's STILL foolish, irrational and selfish to chose to reduce your overall ability to monitor your surroundings by 10% only so you can rock-on to tunes while using the public roads.

To be honest my argument is that pedestrian is *only* killed because they were *only* relying on their hearing.

I'm guessing your logic is "Ped listened for car, couldn't hear car, so judged it safe to cross. If only they heard it they would be alive today.

My logic is "Ped didn't hear so judged it to be safe", If only they looked, they would be alive today.

I don't understand why you would think that the "absence of evidence of a car" is "evidence for the absence of a car"

Using the same logic if I don't hear a car behind me, I don't assume one isn't there, I turn my head and look before changing lanes. Meaning I don't need to hear it's there, because I'm going to look before doing anything.

You argue that not hearing "reduces your overall ability to monitor your surroundings by 10%. I argue that (in a cycling context) you can ONLY monitor your surroundings accurately by using sight

Hearing traffic is so inaccurate it is "foolish, irrational and selfish" to give it any weight (even 10%)

  • By Stily1 at 3:40pm 19 January 2012

Sorry Stewart, I tried, but I CANNOT follow the twists and turns you are trying to apply to your take on my sense of logic. Giving up now.

I do listen to music on my phone while cycling. However, I only use the left ear and leave the other free. I also make sure it's not so loud that it distracts me and so that I can still hear traffic noises etc. I also make sure the earphones are out when I'm somewhere with more risks and I don't tend to use them when im somewhere unfamiliar On the other hand I'm a very experienced and careful cyclist and I know most of my routes around london. Like one of the comments states there doesn't appear to be any evidence that using headphones is in itself dangerous I don't think there any hard and fast rules but if you're doing something that means you are distracted while cycling or which affects your ability to look and listen and respond to dangers, yes that's a problem
  • By ou813 at 5:45pm 13 November 2013

Yes, sight is also helpful, but this argument relies on an assumption that most cyclists always do a lifesaver before moving left or right, and I think most don't.  I have no idea how they can ride like that, but they do.

  • By dezzie at 9:51am 14 November 2013

But don't assume everyone with earbuds is listening to loud music. I cycle with them in, either on radio news, or my phones satnav.

  • By dimspace at 1:26pm 14 November 2013

For me its a matter of personal choice. You can choose to not wear headphones (or wear a single earbud in your left ear with your satnav, or your music down very low). Or you can choose to wear two earbuds blasting out Lady GaGa while you merrily make your way down the road singing along joyfully.
Of course, what personal choice you makes depends very much on your intelligence, your regard for your own safety, and wether or not you wish to end up in an accident.
You have two prime senses that are crucial when riding on the road. Sight, so you can see where you are going, see danger spots, see other vehicles, and your sense of hearing, so you can hear vehicles, identify what sort of vehicle is coming up behind you, hear warnings from pedestrians, and hear other cyclists shouting warnings.
You wouldnt dream of cycling along the road in a blindfold? So why on earth would anyone cycle along the road effectively with blindfolds over their ears.
The roads are a dangerous place, but we can lessen that danger dramatically by reducing the risks we take, and turning off one of your two key senses increases the risk.
"Theres no evidence that riding in headphones leads to more accidents">
You cannot be serious? Can anyone honestly tell me that someone who is listening to music is as focussed on the road as someone who is not?

But like I say, it all comes down to personal choice. If you are smart, and want to minimize risk, you follow a number of measures including making sure you have all your available senses.
If you are dumb, and dont mind increasing your risk, carry on listening to Lady GaGa as you trundle down the street.  

  • By Shannon at 7:35pm 15 November 2013

If a novice asked me, I'd say the are taking an extra risk. The primary reason I don't listen to music as I ride is that there is such loud background noise on the road. I would need to have the volume up damagingly high. Check out the Action On Hearing Loss web site. They have a good test there for ear bud enthusiasts. The ledgendry Richard Ballantine was profoundly deaf, and I would never tell someone with hearing problems they can't ride a bike. That said, if you have good ears, why not use them.

  • By showes at 10:29pm 15 November 2013

What about people who drive with the radio turned way up ? Feel the same about them? What about motor cycle courtiers, police and secuity staff that have an ear bud in to listen to there walkie talky ?

Frankly I dont see the issue its down the the indiviual as long as they dont cause an accident its a non isssue. I dont see any evidence that cyclists that have been killed on Londons roads have been using headphones.

Untill they ban it for all road users to have music I will happily cycle along with one headphone in on my ride home.

I do notice half the posts of this forums are along the line of 'ist it awful that cyclist do X' or 'Motorists wont be nice to us untill we all do y' Frankly you all need to get on with your own lives and stop worrying about other people who are acting as they wish and within the law. You might think they are fools but I am sure many things you do and ways you act others feel is foolish.

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