There was an intriguing (and revealing) detail in the thinking behind Lord Scott of Foscote’s strange intervention during a question about cycling safety in the House of Lords last week.
Lord Jordan asked the Minister of State for transport, Baroness Kramer, about the Government’s assessment of a recent YouGov poll, carried out for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. Lord Scott saw this as the perfect opportunity to chip in, not with a helpful contribution to the debate, but instead with an evident personal bugbear – people cycling with headphones.
Does the Minister agree that a cyclist’s main protection should be his or her own eyes and ears? The eyes are there to warn against impending danger from the front and the ears ought to assist in identifying impending danger from behind. I cycle regularly from my flat in Camden to Westminster—it used to be Lincoln’s Inn, then it was the Royal Courts of Justice and now it is Westminster—and I am appalled by the number of cyclists who bicycle with earplugs in their ears listening to music. If they listen to music, they cannot possibly hear any danger approaching from behind. There are regulations to ensure the use of lights on bicycles in dark or dingy weather. Should there not also be a regulation to prevent the highly dangerous practice to which I have referred?
I say this is intriguing and revealing because of the form of the response to ‘danger from behind.’
Lord Scott of Foscote’s preferred approach to dealing with ‘danger from behind’ is to bring in legislation banning people from using headphones, so they will have a better chance of… hearing it coming. Great.
Worse still, the mere act of listening to music itself is described – apparently in all seriousness – as ‘highly dangerous’. By the same logic, someone who is deaf daring to cycle on London’s roads would be ‘highly dangerous’.
The misdirection is extraordinary. Listening to music while riding a bike is in no way dangerous, in and of itself. Indeed, I’ve compiled a picture post of all the things Dutch people do while riding bikes that aren’t the least bit dangerous.
What is actually dangerous isn’t a pair of headphones – it is, literally, the thing that’s coming ‘from behind’, be it an HGV, bus, van or car.
The proper response to that danger should either be to provide people cycling with their own parallel route, separate from those vehicles, or to limit the speed, volume and mass of that motor traffic on routes that are shared. This is called ‘Sustainable Safety’, and it explains why Dutch users of bicycles are far, far less likely to be killed or injured than their British counterparts, despite engaging in all kinds of allegedly ‘dangerous’ activity.
Rather than loading yet more responsibility onto the person most at risk, we need roads and streets that are designed to keep people safe, even when they’re engaging in harmless activities.