So I've got to chime in on the New York City proposal to ban headphones for cyclists. Everybody's got their opinion, so I'm going to try to point out some facts that apply to both cars and bicycles. After reading the recent Streetsblog article I started thinking, and of course, because I'm a cyclist first and a motorist second I see it a little more clearly from outside the dirty windshield that separates motorists and cyclists.
In response to the Schaufler quote in the Bike Portland post I would have to stop and point out that when he says he saw the guy wearing headphones and thought "He could get run over" that statement is a car problem, not a bike problem. "He could get run over" by what? Another cyclist wearing headphones? A pedestrian? An elephant? No, a motorist. If the cyclist was riding intelligently and responsibly BUT wearing headphones and he was struck from behind by a car, would wearing headphones or not wearing headphones really have any bearing on the outcome? Not as much as if he were using a rearview mirror, or had better rear lighting, or if the driver hadn't been Brett-Farving to his girlfriend at the time.
It's like the helmet issue. Wearing a helmet has no effect on the likelihood of actually getting struck by a car. By mandating helmet use, seat belt use, vehicle insurance and prohibiting the use of headphones government is protecting travelers FROM OTHER TRAVELERS, not themselves.
I suspect that Greenlick's proposal is similarly geared, not to protect children from falls on the bike, but from being on the bike when it is struck by a motorist. Again, the danger comes from people who should be taking more responsibility behind the wheel.
By mandating these things to protect us from others government ignores the true root of the problem: negligence, recklessness and irresponsible behavior by those that drive motor vehicles. If we as a society really wanted to make roads safer we would outlaw eating, putting on make-up, curling hair (I saw it with my own tow eyes!), cell phones, talking to passengers and of course, the bass-thumping radios. I'm not proposing we actually do all those things, but somehow we need for drivers to be MORE accountable for their actions, instead of putting the burden on all the potential victims out there.
And then we come to an issue I've had for many, many years. We give licenses to people when they are absolutely least capable of driving and acting responsibly upon the roadways. A sixteen year old has social, biological and emotional pressures tugging and pushing at them until they have no way of giving anything the proper attention it deserves, most definitely not the fluid, dynamic, high-speed environment of the road. Teenagers are not responsible or mature enough to have free reign of the roads.
I can say that with complete authority. I was allowed free reign of the road from sixteen on, and it is only by the grace of God that I didn't kill myself or others. In retrospect it would have been best if, along with all my peers, I had not been allowed to get my license at sixteen but instead after high school was over. Maybe even later for some...
That's the other issue, it is far too easy to get a driver's license. It's too easy to get one and too easy to keep one. How many stories have you heard about someone who has multiple DUIs and either still has a driver's license or somehow manages to keep driving for a long time after losing their license? The feeling of entitlement to cars in our culture is sickening to me. If you are a menace on the road then you SHOULD NOT be entitled to your happy motoring. It really should be a privilege that comes from exhibiting responsible behavior. And when you cease behaving on the road, motorist or cyclist, then you should lose the privilege.
Having said all that, let me conclude by saying that I think wearing a helmet is a good idea and not wearing headphones while riding is a good idea. But there are times I deem it okay not to wear my own helmet, and sometimes I really want the headphones to block out the world. For me these are judgment calls and I feel that as a 30 year cyclist and 21 year motorist I have ample judgment to know when it's a reasonable risk to not wear a helmet or to put the ear buds in.