The jury is still out on this decades-long debate: is it safe to wear headphones while riding a bicycle? Ask anyone on the street and you’ll get one of two answers, but which one is it, really? It’s true that the popularity of cycling is on the rise; more and more young professionals have abandoned the suburban lifestyle and moved into apartments in the big cities, eliminating the need for a car altogether. Subsequently, bicycles are becoming ever more popular. With the increased foot and cycle traffic, being present and aware of your surroundings is more necessary than ever.
While it’s no surprise that bicycling fatalities are on the rise, is that because of headphone use, or simply the rise in cyclists? There’s no way to know for certain, though it is true that many accidents are caused by cyclists’ inattention. With music blaring or even at a low volume, there’s no guarantee that a cyclist will hear a warning shout or car horn. In particular, the newer sets of headphones often provide “noise-cancelling” technology, which blocks out much of the listener’s external stimuli. While this is a great development in regards to music clarity, it could be considered a detriment to cyclists. The fact of the matter is that if you’re wearing headphones while bicycling down a busy street or trail, you won’t be able to hear possible danger signs, such as sirens, horns, traffic, etc. While this might not be a big deal if you’re on a trail with your mountain bike, it could be a hazard if you’ve gotten a cheap road bike for workouts by cycling in the afternoons on a busy road.
Still, if you just can’t ride without your tunes, there are methods to lower your risks as much as possible. While listening to any music on the roads or bike paths can’t be considered safe in any sense, there are precautions that you can take to help prevent injury. New technologies are constantly rising to make riding safer, as well as compromises that can be made to increase safety.
Listening to music at a much lower volume might allow you to maintain a better awareness of your surroundings. Another, exponentially safer option is to limit your listening by riding with just one earbud, or a speaker that rests on your neck and shoulder. This way, the entirety of your attention won’t be spent on the music, and you’ll be able to hear what’s going on around you.
Another potential solution to the headphone-bicycling paradox lies in technological advancement. For example, Sony is experimenting with a new type of earbuds that don’t block the ambient noise around the listener. You’ll be able to listen to music and catch the voices around you. This could potentially solve the problem of enjoying music while you bike.
There’s no guarantee that cycling without headphones will keep you safe, but it’s true that going without your tunes will much increase your chances of avoiding accident or injury. Hearing external stimuli is a part of safety that shouldn’t be ignored, especially in today’s world of crowded marketplaces and busy streets. It’s important to put safety first and foremost on the agenda, both for you and for the other cyclists, pedestrians, and even motorists out on the roads. Until new technology, such as Sony’s ambient headphones, reaches the mass markets, it’s best to avoid wearing headphones while biking around the city and surrounding areas.