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Are ‘Bone-Conduction’ Headphones Safe for Cyclists?

The risks associated with wearing headphones whilst cycling shouldn’t need explaining as the importance of cyclists being aware of their surroundings in busy traffic is self-evident. 

Cyclists share bus lanes with buses, black cabs and motorcyclists, all of which regularly glide up behind those using pedal power with no warning other than the sound of their own engines. Hearing what’s going on around you is crucial.

Headphone-wearing cyclists happily coasting along bus lanes oblivious to all around them, may not be aware of the gentle buzz of an approaching moped behind their right shoulder as they suddenly need to swerve into its path to avoid a wet drain or pothole.

Wearing headphones while cycling is not illegal in the UK, but a BBC poll conducted last year found that 90% of respondents were in favour of a ban - although 16% admitted to wearing them.

Cyclists who are against wearing headphones, including London Mayor Boris Johnson, who claimed wearing headphones “was absolutely nuts,” say no-one would ever argue that wearing headphones improves safety and reduces the number of cycling accidents.

Those who see nothing wrong with wearing headphones cite the absence of any clear evidence that wearing headphones puts cyclists at risk.

Instead, they place the blame firmly at the feet of drivers who are often happy to demonstrate the lobotomising power of their 15-inch subwoofers while contentedly watching Masterchef with a bowl of cereal in their hands.

National cycling charity CTC found that only four out of 44 cyclists killed over four years were wearing headphones. They also state that “headphone wearing is inadvisable, particularly if listening at high volumes and/or headphones that completely shut out external sound.”

For those who feel unable to cycle without their favourite playlist in their ears or those who simply wish to mute the surrounding din of sirens and road-rage, help may finally be at hand in the shape of so-called ‘bone-conduction’ headphones.

So how do these headphones work? Where normally sound is projected directly towards the ear drums via air pressure waves, bone conduction headphones use the cheekbones to transmit sounds to the inner ear, bypassing the ear drums. The benefit is that the ears remain uncovered enabling wearers to hear the traffic around them.

Such technology has been around for years but it is only now that a pair has been designed specifically for cyclists. So, how safe are they? According to those who have put the headphones through their paces, even on a quiet street, wearers were able to pick up pedestrian conversations as well as approaching traffic alongside their music.

Both a volume-control switch and a power button are attached to the headphone wire, which can conveniently be clipped to clothing. Despite the merits of headphones that allow wearers to still hear external sounds, it is important to remember that any distraction could potentially put cyclists at risk.

In light of the on-going and persistent threat of heavy goods vehicles to those on two wheels and the current drive to fit such lorries with audible signals to warn pedestrians and cyclists of left-hand turns, my advice would always be: the less there is to distract vulnerable road users and make them less aware of their surroundings, the better.

Richard Allbeson is a Senior Personal Injury Solicitor specialising in cycling accident claims at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in Newcastle.

For more information on the range of technologies specifically designed to protect cyclists, currently available, please visit my blog here.

For a free consultation about how to claim compensation for a cycling accident injury call freephone 0800 916 9046 or contact us online and we will call you.

What do you think about new cycling technology? Let us know in the comment box below.

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