Should cyclists and pedestrians be banned from using headphones?

A prominent road safety campaigner says pedestrians and cyclists caught wearing headphones or looking at their devices should have them confiscated.

"You're not allowed to drive drunk, why should you be allowed to drive or cross the road while you're in a trance?" asked Clive Matthew-Wilson, editor of car review site

But cycling advocates say headphones are not a leading cause of death on the roads and a law change would be "unnecessary and misguided".

Since October, Honolulu residents caught looking at their phones or tablets while crossing the road can be fined up to US$99. Honolulu City Councillor Brandon Elefante, who backed the law, was inspired by local high-school students who feared for the lives of their friends.

"They felt that because there wasn't any law, that wasn't changing the course of behaviour for their fellow peers crossing the streets, dangerous highways," he told RadioLIVE's Mark Sainsbury on Monday.

In California, since 2016 you've not been allowed to wear both earbuds while cycling or driving - one ear has to be open. Break that rule, and you could be US$160 poorer.

"Electronic distractions are rapidly becoming one of the biggest factors in our rising road toll," said Mr Matthew-Wilson. "Multiple people are dying because they can't hear the approach of a train or motor vehicle."

Mr Matthew-Wilson wants New Zealand to go a step further than Hawaii and California and confiscate repeat offenders' devices.

"Fines don't work for high-risk groups like young people and poor people, because they don't have any money."

He said rich people are also unlikely to be deterred by a fine - presently $80 if you're caught using a cellphone while driving - so confiscation is the only answer.

"If you've just bought a new iPhone X and you're driving down your road in your Lamborghini boasting about it to your girlfriend, you lose it. Use it and lose it."

Between 2012 and 2016, the Ministry of Transport says one death and 31 injuries could be directly attributed to pedestrians' use of cellphones and headphones. Meanwhile, ACC says over the same period it paid out more than $400,000 in cellphone-related injury claims.

Cycling Advocates Network spokesman Patrick Morgan told Newshub road users already have a "duty of care" towards other drivers, cyclists and pedestrians.

"People wearing headphones is not a leading cause of road death. We know what the leading causes are - it's speed, it's alcohol, it's poor driving and poor road design."

He fears banning headphones could be a slippery slope to discrimination.

"Some people are hearing impaired - should they be prohibited from being a pedestrian or a cyclist? That would be the logical conclusion. It could lead to a ban on people with disabilities."

There are currently no laws banning the wearing of headphones while driving or cycling.

Loud and not so proud

Asked if loud music through your car stereo should also be banned, Mr Matthew-Wilson said it wasn't the same as wearing headphones.

"Scientifically speaking, there is a huge difference listening to music through a speaker - which lets other sounds in, like the siren behind you or the scream of the mother as the child runs into your path."

Police say mobile phones and headphones were two of the main factors behind accidents involving pedestrians.

"The vast majority of pedestrian injuries or deaths can easily be avoided," a spokesperson told Newshub.

"People need to behave responsibly and make their own decisions on what is best for their safety and the safety of those around them."

Mr Morgan recommended New Zealand adopt the Swedish approach to road safety. Sweden's annual road toll is 2.8 people per 100,000, while in the past 12 months New Zealand's is 4.2 per 100,000.

The Economist reports Sweden's success has been attributed to its zero-tolerance approach to road deaths, with a massive emphasis on safety at the expense of speed and a much lower alcohol driving limit.

Newshub has approached the Transport Minister Phil Twyford and Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter for comment, and the Ministry of Transport and ACC for up-to-date statistics on accidents involving cellphones and headphones.