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Thursday, November 21, 2013

Take your ear muffs off Boris

As well as being road safety week it also appears to be 'bash a cyclist' week.

With the recent upsurge in cyclist deaths on our roads, it appears acceptable by some to blame the tragic incidents firmly on the cyclists on themselves.

On Tuesday, in an interview with Radio London the mayor Boris Johnson said: "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 a topic he had previously discussed in a Mayor’s Question Time exchange with the Green Party’s Jenny Jones in 2011, when she asked him about pedestrian casualties in London.

He said: “I am afraid I see too many cyclists with iPods, earphones in both ears, which I think is wrong. I do not agree with that. I am worried.

“Speaking as one who cycles all over London, I see a lot of people using handhelds, using BlackBerry devices and not paying proper attention to the road.”

Of course Mr Johnson would never dream of using headphones, as he can quite clearly steer his cycle with one hand, whilst listening to his selected audio device using the other.

Needless to say Mr Johnson’s remarks saw him come under heavy criticism from cycling campaigners, who said he should be focusing instead on issues such as infrastructure including junction design, as well as a potential rush-hour ban on lorries, involved in a disproportionate number of cyclist fatalities London.

I find it sad that people in such positions of power make these imeadiate ill conceived knee jerk suggestions without really thinking them through.

What's the difference between wearing headphones on a cycle and having loud music, a blue tooth headphone, fighting children or a distracting mother in law in your car?

All can be equally distracting to the user. But there has never been a suggested ban on stereos or blue Tooth ear pieces in a car or even gagging your family (Although  some may welcome such proabition) 

Whether you are cycling or driving a car you are responsible for your own safety and of those who you encounter on your journey.

Your ability to present this is governed by a mixture of experience, responsibility, awareness and perception - all of which are variable, depending upon the conditions.

I sometimes use headphones when I cycle and sometimes I don't, I choose depending on the prevailing circumstances. 

Sometimes they are attached to a two-way radio as a 'safety device' to warn other riders in my group about any dangers that may present themselves.

Sometimes I listen to music on a long rural ride, rarely in urban traffic or when riding in a group.

When I'm in my car I often listen to my stereo, but when I encounter busy traffic or if I am in an unfamiliar uran setting I turn it off to maximise my concentration.

Even though I have a hands free blue tooth I still stop the car to talk where possible.

The problems with fighting kids or an errant mother in law I have not solved.

So if Boris gets his way how would such a proposal be enforced?

Don't people realise that gone are the days when you can pop into your local police station and complain about some driving or riding indiscretion.
Unless there is some injury or damage to aggravate the complaint it is unlikely to be investigated.
When time is allocated to proactively look for traffic violations, seeking headphone wearing cyclists would never be a priority.

Although reckless, poor or  inconsiderate cycling MAY hurt or in extreme cases kill people, the same action in motorised vehicles WILL undoubtedly do so.

As such enforcement in this area should and always will take priority.

A ban on headphones is not the magical answer.

For me the most significant factor to assist in casualty reduction of this sort is to make both sets of road users more aware of each other's perspectives, limitations, and abilities, to be more respectful and responsible.

Earlier this year I took part in 'Ride London, a closed road sportive with thousands of participants. As I came to Box Hill in Surrey I encountered a portly man in front of me. He seemed to be struggling up the hill and unable to maintain a straight line.

Knowing that the hill was getting steeper I anticipated that this rider would struggle further and might require more road than usual so I gave him plenty of room. As I overtook him he was as predicted meandering from side to side and probably oblivious to the fact.

It was Boris.

A car or lorry driver may not have provided the same amount of space, but they would not have appreciated or anticipated the cyclists predicament.

Equally if your approaching a junction on a bike and slip inside any vehicle who might be turning left, have you anticipated what might happen to the road space that your occupying. 

Just because it was one of Tony Blair's lines does not mean that you can't use it Boris. 

Take your headphones off and listen.

Education, education, education!!!

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