Even if you don’t personally use cycling headphones, you probably have an opinion on the issue. Many say that cycling headphones make bicyclists unaware of the sounds around them and present a safety issue. Others say that using biking headphones does not block their perception of the dangers around them. But is wearing cycling headphones illegal?
Are Cycling Headphones Illegal?
First, the data: A study performed in the Netherlands found that cyclists using a smartphone swerve and veer more often, presenting a safety hazard. Another study, also in the Netherlands, found that while auditory perception while wearing headphones was reduced, visual detection while riding was not affected. And although teenagers and young adults using cycling headphones reported a higher crash rate than those not wearing headphones, there was no increased risk seen in middle age and older cyclists. Although studies thus far have been limited, findings have not exactly been staggering either way.
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Interestingly, cycling while wearing headphones and listening to music can actually offer a performance boost. Another study found that cyclists perform 15 percent better when listening to music. This finding is more than anecdotal, as most of us feel we bike harder when listening to our favorite jams.
At least seven states either ban or restrict the use of cycling headphones. These states include California, Virginia, Rhode Island, New York, Maryland, Florida, and Delaware. Pennsylvania prohibits vehicular drivers from wearing headphones, a law that likely applies to cyclists, as well. In several of these states, cyclists can wear headphones on one ear only.
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Most laws do not currently address the use of bone conduction headphones. These headphones convert sound waves into vibrations, which are then picked up by the cochlea in the ear, avoiding the eardrum. One supposed benefit of bone conduction headphones are that they allow you to hear the rest of the world around you without restriction. These headphones represent a gray area in the law, as most cannot agree on whether or not they would violate state laws prohibiting headphones.
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Traditional biking headphones do restrict the ability to hear and react to the sounds around you. Modern headphones are more noise-reducing than ever before, and may present additional hazards. For example, if you are riding and jamming out to hard rock music using noise reduction headphones, you may not even hear a car honking its horn right behind you. Most cyclists would agree that this presents a hazard. In addition, someone listening to music may lose their focus as they become absorbed in their music, and become less aware of their surroundings.
On the other hand, biking headphones playing light music may not present much of an additional hazard. At this point, too few studies have been conducted to make a strong argument either way, which may be why so few states have enacted laws concerning bike riding with headphones.
Whether or not you choose to use cycling headphones, be aware of the road and your surroundings at all times while on your bike. Lapses in focus can result in disastrous bicycle crashes. If you have been involved in a bicycle crash, even if you believe you might be at fault, call the experienced bicycle crash attorneys at Kass & Moses for assistance. With just a free phone call, they can help you determine if you have a case. Ride safe!