Publish date: 03 May 2024

As we raise Generation Alpha, who are born with the inherent trait of knowing how to scroll an iPhone, we must broaden our approach to road safety measures to target the evolving issue of not just drivers being distracted by technology and its accessories, but pedestrians and cyclists too. Addressing pedestrian and cyclist safety, particularly when it comes to the use of headphones, is an increasingly pertinent issue within the context of road safety and the prevention of road trauma. The growing popularity of headphones and earbuds for music, podcasts and calls, poses significant risks for individuals who are navigating traffic environments without full auditory awareness. The legal and practical aspects of this issue emphasise the shared responsibility for road safety among drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians alike. 

Queensland and Road Safety Laws  

Queensland’s road safety laws are primarily designed to protect all road users, including the most vulnerable, such as pedestrians and cyclists. While the legislation is detailed regarding the obligations of drivers towards these groups, it also implies a duty of care that pedestrians and cyclists must observe for their safety and that of others. 

Queensland law does not explicitly prohibit the use of headphones by pedestrians or cyclists. However, despite this, road users, including pedestrians and cyclists, have a duty of care to avoid actions that could foreseeably lead to the risk of injury. This includes being aware of one’s surroundings. 

Laws that prohibit the use of mobile phones while driving underscore the principle that attention is critical for safety. By analogy, pedestrians and cyclists significantly reduce their environmental awareness and reaction time by wearing headphones, which could be seen as analogous to distracted driving in the context of responsibility for safety. 

The Accountability of Pedestrians and Cyclists and Contributory Negligence  

Should an accident occur, the concept of contributory negligence might come into play. While pedestrians and cyclists are afforded a high degree of protection under Queensland law, they are also accountable for their safety. The use of headphones, especially if it impairs one’s ability to hear traffic, can be seen as neglecting this responsibility. This does not absolve drivers from their duty to exercise care, but it does mean that pedestrians and cyclists could be seen as contributing to any incident that occurs as a result of their reduced awareness. 

If wearing headphones contributed to a pedestrian or cyclist’s inability to hear warnings or approaching vehicles, this could impact, and significantly restrict, the compensation awarded.  

Road Safety Statistics: A 2024 Snapshot 

As of 2024, Queensland has witnessed a mixed landscape of road safety statistics. While initiatives and enhanced enforcement measures have led to a reduction in certain types of road traffic offenses, the state still grapples with significant challenges. Increases in pedestrian incidents and motorcycle accidents, in particular, have drawn attention to the need for more targeted safety measures. From April 2023 to March 2024, Queensland follows closely behind NSW, with the second most fatalities on the road. In this year alone, there have been 82 fatalities on the road, which is 24.2% more than the same period for the previous year.  

Road Safety Week 2024 

In light of Road Safety Week 2024 and in particular, the pledge to avoid distractions, it’s pertinent to highlight how road safety is everyone’s responsibility. While Queensland law does not explicitly ban the use of headphones by pedestrians and cyclists, it is clear that the safety of all road users is a shared responsibility. By choosing to wear headphones, individuals must take extra precautions to remain aware of their surroundings and minimise risks. Safety is paramount, and all road users must work together to ensure that Queensland’s roads are safe for everyone. 

If headphones are essential to your walk or ride, here are some recommendations for safer practices while using headphones:  

  • Volume Control: If wearing headphones, keep the volume at a level where you can still hear environmental sounds and warnings. Do not use noise cancelling headphones while walking or cycling on/near a road.  
  • One Ear Free: Consider using only one earbud, keeping the other ear free to listen to sounds around you. 
  • Use of Bone Conduction Headphones: These allow you to listen to audio content without blocking your ears, helping maintain awareness of your surroundings. 
  • Visibility and Alertness: Whether or not you choose to use headphones, always ensure you are visible to drivers and stay alert to your surroundings, especially when crossing roads or navigating intersections. You may also consider the time of day and the visibility of your attire.  

National Road Safety Week is recognised from 5-12 May 2024, for more information visit:  

Libby Thomas
Libby Thomas
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