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Cycling and mobiles: not such a bad mix afterall?

Published onsdag 15 januari 2014 kl 15.00
"You have to choose the right moment."
(3:27 min)
Call me later? Photo Peter Öberg Sveriges Radio

Recent figures show that Sweden's roads are the safest they've been since before the second world war, with car and bicycle fatalities falling to record lows. Cyclists remain at risk however, with a growing number of serious injuries reported. One factor blamed for this trend is cyclists' use of mobile phones.

Do you use your mobile phone to make calls when you're cycling? If you do, are you being irresponsible? Or do you automatically compensate, by maybe slowing down, thereby perhaps not being such a hazard to road-users as you might first think.

You have to make a special effort to separate anyone from their smart-phone these days, especially the young, who can be seen pouring over their mobile devices in the street, during meals, driving, or indeed weaving through rush hour traffic on their bikes.

But perhaps using your phone while you're cycling isn't as dangerous as you might have first thought - as long as you're confident you can negotiate a call and the road.

That's the message from the Swedish National Road and Transport Research Institute (VTI).    

The research, conducted by the VTI and a consultancy, suggests people alter their behaviour when they're on the phone and on two wheels.

For the study, 22 people were asked to cycle along a specially selected route and to use their mobile phones in different ways. 

Reasearcher Katja Kircher from the VTI explains.

"What was unique with this study, was that we allowed the participants to do exactly what they felt was safest and best for them, so for example, they could stop if they wanted, which 20 per cent of them did," Kircher says.

She goes on to explain that some participants reduced their speed dramatically, others, when making a call, stopped to dial the number, and started cycling once they were connected and the phone was in their pocket.

Kircher says that the study also revealed compensatory behaviours, such as where people looked when they used their phones. For example, several participants continued to observe other road users while they may have otherwise looked at advertising boards," Kircher says.

She says that she recognises that it's convenient for people to communicate wherever they are; and that you're not often in traffic because you want to be in traffic, but because you're getting from one place to another, and of course you want to take care of other errands while you're travelling to be as effective as possible.

Kircher says that while it's important to know your limitations, if you feel you can handle it, then there's no reason not to make a call while cycling. 

"You have to choose the right moment, and it's important not to overestimate your abilities. If the phone rings at an inconvenient time, it's better to wait and perhaps call back later, or when you can stop and call. If however, the road is quiet, I don't think there's any reason you shouldn't make a call if you feel you can handle the situation," says Kircher.

The research was presented during Transport Forum, an event held recently in Linköping, southern Sweden, that drew some 1,600 representatives from the transport and infrastructure sectors. 

According to data published on the VTI website,153 cyclists died on Swedish roads between 2007 and 2012. The majority of these fatalities were the result of accidents with motor vehicles.

VTI stresses that the most effective ways of reducing cyclist deaths are greater helmet use and the separation of cyclists from motorised traffic in built-up areas.

Our journalism is based on credibility and impartiality. Swedish Radio is independent and not affiliated to any political, religious, financial, public or private interests.
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