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Can Cyclists Wear Headphones or Ear Buds while Cycling in California?
A long bike ride or commute might sound like the perfect time to listen to some music or catch up on the latest episode of your favorite podcast. After all, car drivers do it all the time: almost every commuter stuck in traffic or traveling down the highway will be listening to some kind of audio content, whether that’s the local radio or an album. So what’s the difference?
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When listening to music, car stereos provide the listener with less direct sound so they can still hear ambient noises such as conversations in the car and the sounds of the traffic around them. Someone listening to music in a car can probably still hear a car beeping from a relatively large distance, and even the sound of a revving motorcycle overtaking. These sounds are very important for situational awareness, as the brain is constantly processing these background noises to pinpoint the locations of other people and hazards without us necessarily noticing them on a conscious level.
Of course, loud music can be distracting to a car driver, and some songs can actually make you increase your speed, potentially without noticing. Fast-paced songs in particular—ranging from classical tunes like Wagner’s “Flight of the Valkyries” to modern anthems such as The Prodigy’s “Firestarter”—can make joggers run faster and drivers forget all about those pesky speed limits. Loud music can also contribute to distracted driving: a driver imagining themselves shredding on the main stage at a festival will not be able to pay full attention to the road at all times.
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Another danger of loud music when driving a vehicle is that it can also block out these essential background noises if the volume is high enough. However, the law leaves it up to the driver to use their common sense and settle on a volume that is comfortable to listen to while ensuring they can adequately hear traffic. It would be very difficult to police the level of volume considered adequate for the driver to still maintain situational awareness while driving, as this likely differs from person to person and settings are measured differently across various car stereo models.
This picture is much less complex when dealing with air pods, ear buds and headphones. As both in-ear and over-ear options encase or block the ear’s opening entirely, background noises are partially or fully drowned out. Although a cyclist wearing headphones may be able to hear a loud car horn honking near them over their music, they may not be able to hear someone shouting to warn them of a potential hazard or the revving of a vehicle that may be getting too close. Therefore, headphones are deemed to have a much more severe impact on situational awareness. In fact, even car drivers are not permitted to wear in-ear or over-ear headphones or ear buds, as the more direct nature of the sound emitted causes increased risk in any road user.
Although wearing headphones while cycling and even walking or running has long been the subject of safety discussions, California has amended state laws to stipulate more specific requirements. California Vehicle Code 27400 states that motorists—including cyclists—are not allowed to wear headphones or earbuds in both ears. As a result, you must always keep one ear free when traveling on California’s roads so you can remain vigilant and aware. The only time that motorists are permitted to cover or otherwise obscure both ears with headphones is if these are for noise-cancelling purposes when operating noisy machinery, such as garbage trucks or construction vehicles. Drivers and cyclists with hearing impairments are also permitted to wear hearing aids in both ears as this improves their awareness of potential hazards.
If you have any questions about any legal aspects of cycling that may impact your cycling personal injury case, get in touch with the team at Scranton Law Firm today. We can offer free, no-obligation advice and even a case review so you know where you stand. Our personal injury lawyers have extensive experience in dealing with cycling-related accident and injury cases, so you can rest assured that your case will be in good hands.