The report presents the results of an on-line questionnaire SWOV conducted among 2553 Dutch cyclists. The aim of the research was to study intensity and usage of portable media players and mobile phones among Dutch cyclists and determine the possible consequences for traffic safety of this usage and other distracting factors.
Although it proves hard to determine on the basis of self-reported behaviour how much bigger chances of an accident become by the use of these devices when cycling, it has become clear anyway that use of devices is a risk factor in its own right, irrespective of other risk factors like age and cycling in hazardous situations. According to conservative estimates the risk of a cycling accident increases by a factor of 1.3 for a cyclist who always uses his phone, answers his calls and listens to music, compared to a cyclist who never uses these devices. Focussing on mobile phone use only, it is clear that in three to four percent of cycling accidents mobile phone use preceding the accident may have been a contributing factor. In addition to use of these devices there are also numerous other distractions when cycling. Relatively speaking, other sources of distraction are mentioned three to four times more often than using devices in traffic accidents.
The study also revealed that the use of portable media players and mobile phones is highly age-related. Among 12 to 17 year olds three quarters use devices to listen to music, compared to an eighth of people aged over 50. It is remarkable that elderly (50+) cyclists are two to three times more likely than younger cyclists (12-34 years) not to use these devices for music or phone calls in particularly hectic or otherwise complicated traffic conditions. Listening to music is the reason cited most often for device use when cycling: 15 per cent listens always or nearly always to music when cycling; for telephone use this is approximately three per cent.
Among several other recommendations, SWOV advises paying attention to risk recognition among young cyclists. This recommendation is based on findings that the young use these devices much more often than the elderly, have a lower awareness of the risks involved and in addition adapt their behaviour in using these devices to a lesser degree to traffic conditions. Information and education should in particular target younger cyclists and should contribute to raising awareness that using these devices when cycling heightens overall risks.
The results of this study provide an initial indication of the increased risks of listening to music and using a mobile phone when cycling. It is sensible to abstain from listening to music or using a mobile phone, particularly in circumstances where attention should be paid to participating in traffic and the actual cycling. SWOV recommends taking this problem seriously, but feels at the same time that the data provided by this study are as yet insufficiently conclusive to warrant recommending in favour of or against a legal ban on using these devices when cycling. Other data or studies need to provide more clarity on the possible reductions in injuries. Of course the proportionality of the measure (in relation to other risk factors in traffic as well), practical feasibility and any cost-benefit analyses will have to be considered in this process as well.