After cyclists' deaths, TfL moves headphones ban a step closer

London-based institution to study their impact on safety

Banning cyclists from wearing headphones moved a step closer on Wednesday with news Transport for London has approached a London-based institution to carry out research on the impact on cyclists' safety of wearing headphones.

If their findings match that of a 2011 peer-reviewed study by Dutch scientists, which found several negative effects, a ban could be introduced in the capital where six cyclists have died over the last two weeks.

Mayor of London Boris Johnson was heavily criticised for appearing to blame cyclist behaviour for the recent spate of deaths after he said on Tuesday: "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."

He made the comments towards the end of a wide-ranging interview discussing cycling safety. It is unclear whether any of the six were listening to music when they were killed and what, if any, impact that would have had.

Responding to Mr Johnson's comments regarding a potential headphone ban, one source said: "I know for a fact that a research institution has been approached by TFL to ascertain if wearing headphones has an impact on cyclists' reaction times. They need this research because they don't know if it does, there is just some indicative evidence."

Cyclists listening to music are at greater risk of injury, according to the study carried out by scientists at the University of Groningen. They found that "listening to music resulted in reduced visual and auditory perception and reduced speed". The authors suggested this may reduce cyclist stability.

Their report, published in the journal Transportation Research, concluded: "Negative effects are very large when in-earbuds are used. Negative effects of high volume and fast tempo on auditory perception were found. No negative effects were found when listening to music using only one earbud."

A handful of states in the USA have banned cyclists from wearing headphones while on the road. Florida state law, concerning an area where cycling fatalities are among the highest in the country, says regarding 'headsets': "A bicyclist may not wear a headset, headphone, or other listening device other than a hearing aid when riding. Wearing a headset blocks out important audio clues needed to detect the presence of other traffic."

Cyclist and attorney Christopher Burns said on his Florida Cycling Law blog: "There is a common stereotype that a cyclist listening to music, wearing headphones, is a dangerous rider, who is not able to pay attention to his surroundings. Many types of headphones allow outsides sounds to reach their ears - not just music or sound coming from the mobile device. In fact, the issue of safety with headphones and cycling is simply not that clear."

The ban does not appear to have had an effect on cycling fatalities though which increased in Florida by nearly 58 per cent from 76 deaths in 2010 to 120 deaths from cycling accidents in 2011.

Rhode Island also has a ban in place while California, Maryland and Delaware regulate the use of headphones or "earbuds" stating that cyclists must leave one ear uncovered while riding.

Quebec's highway safety code also prohibits wearing headphones while cycling. It's the only Canadian jurisdiction to do so and after it was introduced police officers stopped cyclists they spotted listening to music to give them "courtesy warnings" stating in future they would be fined C$52 (£30)

In a 12-month period between 2011 and 2012 there were four bike-related deaths "in the Montreal area", with a population of more than 1.6m people, but police said none of them was related to cyclists wearing headphones while riding.

Fourteen cyclists have been killed in London in 2013 as arguments continue to rage that further legislation regarding headphones, or compulsory helmets, will discourage people from cycling, which remains very safe. About 22 cyclists die per billion km (620,000,000 miles) cycled, or one per 28,000,000 miles, according to a 2011 Department for Transport report.

A spokesman for TfL declined to answer whether it had made the approach and recommended cyclists read its safety tips "for drivers and cyclists" on their website.



Wearing a helmet is not compulsory though the Government says: "You should wear a cycle helmet which conforms to current regulations, is the correct size and securely fastened."


Cyclists must have white front and red rear lights lit at night. It must also be fitted with a red rear reflector (and amber pedal reflectors, if manufactured after 1/10/85). White front reflectors and spoke reflectors will also help you to be seen. Flashing lights are permitted but it is recommended that cyclists who are riding in areas without street lighting use a steady front lamp.


The Government recommends wearing "appropriate clothing". It states: "You should wear light-coloured or fluorescent clothing which helps other road users to see you in daylight and poor light and reflective clothing and/or accessories (belt, arm or ankle bands) in the dark."

Crossing the road

Rules for cyclists state: "Do not ride across a pelican, puffin or zebra crossing. Dismount and wheel your cycle across."

Source: The Highway Code - rules for cyclists

* We should listen to what Boris has to say about cycling with headphones  

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £45,000

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a solutions / s...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Test Development Engineer

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you inspired to bring new a...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Motor Engineer

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific