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Driver Legal Fears: Stop Cyclists Using Earphones Via Highway Code

By Stephen Turvil | November 17, 2020

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New Highway Code rules should stop cyclists wearing headphones to save lives and be fair to motorists, survey respondents imply.

Driver Legal Fears: Stop Cyclists Using Earphones Via Highway Code

Proposed Highway Code rule changes put more emphasis on motorists to protect cyclists – so ‘now is the time’ to ‘urgently debate’ whether cyclists should be banned from wearing headphones which make it harder to hear traffic, IAM RoadSmart implied. Furthermore, some drivers might feel unfairly penalised by the new rules if they collide with cyclists who cannot hear properly.

‘Hierarchy of Road Users‘ is the concept underpinning the proposed rules. It ensures the road users ‘who can do the greatest harm have the greatest responsibility to reduce danger’ to others, the Department for Transport revealed. Motorists, for starters, would therefore more often give way to cyclists.

Survey results

IAM RoadSmart – a safety charity – conducted a survey that suggests there is support in many countries to stop cyclists using headphones (and earbuds). Consider the UK, for example. 68.2% of respondents ‘favour a ban’. There is comparable support throughout Germany (69.8%) and Hungary (69.9%). Such figures are ‘matched’ by survey respondents in North America, Asia, and Africa.

Furthermore, there are ‘small majorities’ in favour of banning headphones in The Netherlands and Denmark where cycling is very, very popular. Some countries buck the percentage trend, though. In Spain, for example, there is stronger support than typical to stop cyclists wearing headphones. 80% of survey respondents favour a ban. In contrast, only 36% support a ban in Finland. 

IAM RoadSmart’s survey further revealed that high percentages of women favour a ban. The figures are: Europe (69%), Asia (80%), Africa (83%), and North America (62%). ‘Internationally, female road users are more in favour than males of a ban on  headphones or earbuds while cycling’, the charity confirmed.

Clear support to ban headphones

Driver Legal Fears: Stop Cyclists Using Earphones Via Highway Code Image

IAM RoadSmart emphasised why there is cause for concern. Its Policy and Research Director, Neil Greig, explained: ‘Being plugged into headphones or earbuds is the ultimate distraction. It completely shuts you off to your surroundings which potential creates road safety risk to yourself, pedestrians, and others around you. This is even more critical with the popularity and increasing prevalence of noise-cancelling equipment’, the safety expert claimed. 

Legal perspective

There might be another reason drivers want to stop cyclists wearing headphones: fear of the law. Motoring lawyer, Nick Freeman, once told the Express that the ‘default position’ is drivers are to blame for collisions with cyclists. ‘It is not the legal presumption but it is the starting point’, he said. Motorists might have to show that they were ‘exercising due care’ to be cleared.

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