Cyclists get it in the ear over headphones

Are 'iPod zombies' to blame for accidents?

It's not a great idea to wear headphones while cycling – but it's no worse than singing along to a car stereo or walking across the road with your hood up.

That's the message from motoring and cycling groups following the latest anti-cyclist article in the UK's mainstream press.

The Times reported yesterday that AA president Edmund King had called for a campaign warning riders not to listen to personal stereos while cycling.

The newspaper spoke of a plague of "iPod zombies" on bikes who had "become the latest menace on Britain's roads", and said earphones were being held partly responsible for an upsurge in cycling casualties and collisions with pedestrians.

It cited the cases of Oxfordshire teenager Abigail Haythorne, who is believed to have been listening to an MP3 player when she died in a collision with a car in October 2007, and a six-year-old girl from Wallasey, Merseyside who had her leg shattered by a headphone-wearing cyclist in June 2009.

But when we called the AA, they told us Mr King wasn't having a dig at cyclists but at road users in general who are unaware of what's going on around them – be that because they're listening to music on headphones while cycling, walking along with their hood up or, in an extreme example, having a mobile phone conversation on the hard shoulder of the motorway while waiting for their car to be repaired.

CTC, the UK's national cyclists' organisation, said people should be left to make their own judgments, and pointed out that deaf people are able to ride in traffic despite not being able to hear other vehicles.

Duncan Vernon, road safety manager for ROSPA, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, told BikeRadar: "An awareness of your surroundings is clearly important in terms of road safety, for cyclists, motorists and pedestrians.

"By listening to an MP3 player you're essentially cutting out one of your senses and one of the useful elements of safety-decision making. We recommend that cyclists do not cut out this sense.  

“We're always on the lookout for emerging trends in accidents, so we would consider looking into this particular aspect of cycle safety more. The issue of cyclists and pedestrians listening to music is something we’re being asked for advice about more often now, and, in the absence of robust figures, we’ve already begun to monitor press coverage of accidents where listening to music may have played a part."

There is no UK law banning cyclists from listening to music while riding, but if found guilty of dangerous riding you can be fined up to £2,500.

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