Listening to music or talking on the phone while cycling as well as the growing number of quiet (electric) cars on the road can make the use of auditory cues challenging for cyclists. The present study examined to what extent and in which traffic situations traffic sounds are important for safe cycling. Furthermore, the study investigated the potential safety implications of limited auditory information caused by quiet (electric) cars and by cyclists listening to music or talking on the phone. An Internet survey among 2249 cyclists in three age groups (16–18, 30–40 and 65–70 year old) was carried out to collect information on the following aspects: 1) the auditory perception of traffic sounds, including the sounds of quiet (electric) cars; 2) the possible compensatory behaviours of cyclists who listen to music or talk on their mobile phones; 3) the possible contribution of listening to music and talking on the phone to cycling crashes and incidents. Age differences with respect to those three aspects were analysed. Results show that listening to music and talking on the phone negatively affects perception of sounds crucial for safe cycling. However, taking into account the influence of confounding variables, no relationship was found between the frequency of listening to music or talking on the phone and the frequency of incidents among teenage cyclists. This may be due to cyclists’ compensating for the use of portable devices. Listening to music or talking on the phone whilst cycling may still pose a risk in the absence of compensatory behaviour or in a traffic environment with less extensive and less safe cycling infrastructure than the Dutch setting. With the increasing number of quiet (electric) cars on the road, cyclists in the future may also need to compensate for the limited auditory input of these cars.
Mobile phone conversations, listening to music and quiet (electric) cars: Are traffic sounds important for safe cycling?