Ear-buds pose safety risk for bicyclists

CREATED Apr. 19, 2012

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MILWAUKEE - More and more bicyclists are wearing them all the time.  No, not helmets, ear-buds.  The tiny headphones that connect to smart-phones or mp3 players.

"Everybody wears ear-buds," said Jerry Pearce, owner of Rainbow Jersey Bicycles in Shorewood.  "It's definitely a (safety) issue."

"If a bicyclist is distracted, they're less likely to (notice) things in front of them or behind them."

It's not illegal to wear the ear-buds, but it is frowned upon.

"We discourage people from wearing headphones or ear-buds while biking," said Jennifer Binder, education director at the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin.  "Our culture is very 'plugged-in.'  Few people seem to want to enjoy the environment immediately around them."

Obviously bicyclists need to be aware of their surroundings while riding near traffic, but Binder believes ear-buds pose a bigger challenge on bike trails.

"Everyone is wearing them," she said.  "People 'zone-out' on the trails."

Pearce agreed.

"Many cyclists complain about rollerbladers with ear-buds," he said. Pedestrians wearing ear-buds may not hear a cyclist come up from behind them.

There's no law forbidding bicyclists from wearing headphones, just like there's no law requiring them to wear a helmet. 

Binder warns:  "The more senses you have to gauge the environment, the safer you will be."

Sage advice.  But is anybody listening?

Click for more details about BFW's 'Share and Be Aware' program.