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The company obtained that result after putting 2,000 road users from France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the UK – including e-scooter riders and pedestrians, as well as cyclists and motorists – “into an immersive virtual street and measured their reaction times in potentially hazardous situations.” The experiment was based on a smartphone app called Share The Road: Safe And Sound.
As aforementioned, reaction times slowed down on average by 4.2 seconds with music playing through headphones than when it was not. And according to Ford, 58% of participants said afterwards that they would not listen to music again on the move in the future, having realised how much it slowed their reactions.
Dr. Maria Chait, Professor of auditory cognitive neuroscience at University College London, reportedly explained how we very often hear important events happening around us before we see them, making sound a vital component in our ability to understand our environment. “While headphones can be beneficial to us in many circumstances, on the road they can block out important sound cues, meaning we might not be able to perceive nearby vehicles or road users, potentially putting them – and us – in danger,” she said.
Ford Europe’s senior Manager of brand communications and content development, Emmanuel Lubrani said he hopes these findings “will raise awareness of the reality of wearing headphones while on the move.”
Similarly to Ford’s results, a study conducted in the Netherlands in 2018 concluded that cyclists who listen to music through headphones or talk on their mobile phones while riding their bikes may be putting themselves at risk. The authors of the study went further and suggested that cyclists listening to music or talking on their phone in countries with less cycling infrastructure than the Dutch have — like the U.S.— might be more at risk.
In response to the 2016 death of a woman riding a bike in the UK, both the road safety charity RoSPA and campaign organisation Cycling UK said that they discourage cyclists from wearing headphones.
“Our view is that wearing headphones is inadvisable, particularly if listening at high volumes or with headphones that completely shut out sound, but the idea that headphone wearing cyclists are any more of a problem than headphone wearing pedestrians is not borne out by any evidence we have seen,” Cycling UK’s Duncan Dollimore reportedly said.
In 2018, 857 people on bikes were reportedly killed by drivers in the U.S. — the deadliest year for cyclists and pedestrians since 1990. Unfortunately, this is a trend that has been on the uprise in the last decade, while driver and passenger fatalities have reached all-time lows. According to the cyclist blog BikinginLA, as of May 23, 2021, there have been at least 26 bicycling fatalities in Southern California. In Los Angeles County, as of May 5, there have been seven.