An exploration of cyclists’ mobile phone use: Individual, social, and contextual factors and their interaction

Rebecca Karstens Brandt

Research output: Book/ReportPh.D. thesisResearch

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The available literature on cyclists’ phone use is limited and has not been sufficiently updated along with technolo gical developments, such as the switch from push button phones to smartphones. Through three complimen-tary sub studies this Ph.D. project examines how individual, social, and con-textual factors affect cyclists’ phone use. The foundation of the sub studies are in depth qualitative interviews, as well as questionnaire data collected before and after July 2019, when a ban was introduced against use of handheld electronic devices whilst cycling in the Netherlands.

Through qualitative interviews with nine Danish and ten Dutch cyclists, the first sub study examines how material characteristics of the environment along with the cyclists’ own belongings are associated with phone use. One finding is that these characteristics influ e nce whether the cyclists use the phone or not. Additionally the cyclists use strategies to both facilitate and prevent phone use. For instance, some cyclists placed their phones to make it more easily accessible during the trip or disabled notifications and ringtones to avoid distractions. Because the cyclists both plan to use the phone and feel a need to avoid habitual use, it is suggested that phone use can be divided into reflective and impulsive use. Banning handheld phone use for cyclists seeks to regulate the behaviour through deterr ing the reflective deci-sion. The influence of a ban on impulsive phone use will therefore only be indirect through encouraging the use of strategies to prevent phone use. It is possible that further indirect effects of a ban can occur through higher perceived risk or by creating a market for the development of technologies that enable legal phone use.

The second sub-study explores whether selected demographic, social, and psychologi cal factors can predict cyclists’ handheld phone use in the Netherlands and Denmark. Additionally the cyclists’ beliefs about traffic rules are included as an explanatory variable. At the time of the data collection, handheld phone use while cycling was banned in Denmark whilst it was still legal in the Netherlands. In both Denmark and the Netherlands the probability of handheld phone use increases with low age, high frequency of cycling, low self identity as a safe cyclist, supporting subjective norms, and high perceived control of phone use while cycling. In Denmark, we furtherm ore identify an effect from believing handheld phone use is forbidden, whilst this is not associated with handheld phone use in the Netherlands. This points to a ban on handheld phone use not being obeyed solely because of its existence. The ban needs to b e implemented through either changes in moral, enforcement of the law, or a combination of both in order to reduce the use of handheld phones among cyclists.

The third sub study compares questionnaire data from before and after the Dutch ban on handheld ph one use. In the Netherlands, we see a reduction in the proportion who use handheld phone for conversations while cycling while there are no changes for other functions (e. texts, e mail, SOME). At the same time, we did not identify changes for any of the functions in Denmark. We do however find an increase in the use of headphones for conversations in the Netherlands after the ban. Furthermore, there is an increase in sense of guilt and in believing oneone’s phone use annoys others for handheld phone use whi le this is unchanged for hands free use. The results suggest that legislation can have an eff ect on cyclists’ use of handheld phones by providing an incentive to use technological solutions. In the short term, the overall reduction of phone use appears very limited. In the long term, it is possible that the ban will influence social norms through changes in moral, which may increase effectiveness. Psychological aspects like moral and perception of risk should therefore be included in the evaluation of a ban Similarly, attention should be given to non intended consequences like cyclist s’ possible uptake of strategies to avoid apprehension that can also affect cyclists’ safety.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherTechnical University of Denmark
Number of pages165
Publication statusPublished - 2022


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