Friday, August 20, 2010

Please don't do this!

An article by Melena Ryzik in today’s New York Times, “Turn on (MP3s), Tune In and Ride,” presents the concept of expanding the “communal understanding about the pleasures of navigating the urban landscape” by having a “group bike ride with a shared route and a common soundtrack. . . . Riders equipped with MP3 players set off from the same point, pushing “play” simultaneously.”

Regular readers know that I am a biking aficionado. I will tell you, in no uncertain terms, that a bike rider with earphones is oblivious to the sounds of the road and is a hazard to himself and to others. It is hard to imagine a more dangerous way to ride, except for riding blindfolded.

I have presented, in other posts, data on the dangers of driving while on a cellphone. The neurological issue behind that danger is that human beings are not really that good at multi-tasking. I am not contending that such is the issue here. The issue here is that you simply do not hear things in the ambient environment when you are wearing earplugs.

While biking, I have approached people on the road and have called out the expected, “On your left,” as I prepare to pass them. People listening to music do not hear me. Then, as I pass, many of them swerve from the surprise. When I see those earbuds, I give extra berth because I know they might swerve into me. But sometimes, they swerve towards the curb where there can be road grates or other hazards. I have passed couples riding and listening together, who have almost collided with each other as I passed them.

Ok, so my voice is not very loud, but I have also witnessed bike riders who do not hear approaching trucks and buses as they listen to their iPods.

I am not talking here of people who blast the music at high volumes, like the ones you can hear across the aisle in a subway car. I am talking about normal music volumes.

So, please ride your bike with both ears open. Listen to music in another setting.


wrinkledman said...

Hi Paul,

I couldn't agree more. I know that not everyone feels this way, but I enjoy the natural sounds on a bike ride and that includes testing my awareness of direction, speed, proximity of approaching cars and trucks. The demands of bike riding, especially in urban areas provide their own form of relief from the everyday world, specifically they engage all the senses and require a kind of zen-like focus on no one thing and all things at once. Music in the ear simply interferes with that awareness which is essential to safety.

Anonymous said...

From Facebook:

Billy Milford: Good note.

Brenda: I hope you sent a letter to the editor. You have a bigger voice than you think, and hopefully they will print this.

Vicky: Tres tres important!

Sriram: K Bike riding and earphones (with MP3s, cellphones or any other audio device) do not go together.

Stevie: Biking with headphones didn't make sense when it was Sony Walkman technology and it doesn't make sense now - Be A Lert !!!

Xtine: Be fully in the moment! As a confirmed urban biker I offer -- why not tune in to the sounds of life and be also aware of the sounds other vehicles are making. We are not in a controlled environment a la Disneyland -- enjoy but don't tune out.

Susan: Very true.

Gordon said...

I can't agree more. I just completed my first RAGBRAI ride across Iowa. Had firsthand experience of the dangers of cycling, especially in a crowd. Attended to one rider with a humerus fracture and one rider with a severe head injury. Tragically, the latter cyclist didn't survive. These accidents weren't related to earphone use, but they illustrate the need for constant alertness. If these things happen with no earphones and while wearing helmets, imagine what can happen when wearing earphones.
On a similar note, I would encourage my healthcare colleagues to carry some basic first aid supplies when cycling:airway,gloves,valve/mask. They may help save a life while waiting for the ambulance. I had nothing but bicycle supplies in my saddle bag. That will change.

Elaine Schattner, M.D. said...

I live and walk in Manhattan. I couldn't agree more completely - this group exercise is dangerous for the riders, other cyclists, drivers and pedestrians like me.