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Cycling with Earbuds

If you’ve raced a triathlon before, you know that USAT rules state that you cannot wear headsets, headphones, walkmans, iPods, mp3 players, or personal audio devices, etc. are not to be carried or worn at any time during the race.  The penalty for doing so is a variable time penalty.

And yet, if you’ve trained for a triathlon before, chances are that you have worn a headset, headphones, walkmans, iPod or MP3 player.

Many folks run with music.  Generally, it’s not a big deal.  I often run with music.  In fact, I find that my tempo sometimes increases or decreases depending on the song that I’m listening to.  For example, it’s easier to run fast to “It’s the End of the World as We Know It” than “Tequila Sunrise”.  I do enjoy running without music, though.  It’s nice to listen to the ambient sounds, my impersonation of Darth Vader’s breathing, and such.  Plus, it’s easier to have a quick chat with someone if you aren’t wearing earbuds.

So…is it kosher to cycle wearing earbuds?

cyclist-earbud

It’s an interesting question – with potential legal guidance as well as common sense instruction.

First, the common sense approach:  Wisdom suggests that the wearing of earbuds limits our ability to hear sounds like a car approaching from behind, other cyclists, sirens, etc.  Using common sense as the judge suggests that we probably shouldn’t wear earbuds – at least not in both ears – because it just isn’t safe.  Moreover, it’s not a purists approach to cycling.  Back in the day, cyclists didn’t wear headphones.  They just had the wind and songbirds to listen to.  And that guy behind you who always yells, “car back!”.  Of course…back in the day, headphones didn’t exist.  And, in any case…all those professionals that race in the Tour de France wear them, so it must be OK, right?

So, discounting the common sense argument fully, it might not even be legal for you to wear headphones while cycling.  That being said, even where there’s a statute about wearing headphones while operating a motor vehicle, there might be some wiggle room for interpretation.

Take Florida, for instance.  Here – as in most states in the US – bicycles are considered motor vehicles according to state statutes.  As such, cyclists are held to the same legal requirements as operators of automobiles, trucks or motorcycles.  Specifically, Florida statute 316.304 very clearly states, “No person shall operate a vehicle while wearing a headset, headphone, or other listening device, other than a hearing aid or instrument for the improvement of defective human hearing.”  As with most laws, there are a few exceptions…one of which might come into play for cyclists:  “This section does not apply to:  Any person using a headset in conjunction with a cellular telephone that only provides sound through one ear and allows surrounding sounds to be heard with the other ear.”

A strict reading of this statute might make you think that wearing a music player runs afoul of the law.

But wait….almost everyone cycles with their phone these days.  And isn’t it true that most people use their cell phone/device as both a phone and a music player?  How would a police officer know if I was wearing an ear bud for phone call purposes or for music listening purposes?

I guess that technically a police officer wouldn’t know the difference.

So, net/net – is it OK to wear earbuds while cycling?

That’s a really interesting question – and I’m not about to give legal advice!  I suggest that you learn and know the laws applicable to where you live and exercise at least a modicum of common sense.

Truth be told, I wear one ear bud often when cycling.  But only if I’m going alone and on a route that does not typically have much traffic.  I always have the earbud in my right ear (facing away from traffic) so that I can better hear passing cars or other cyclists.  When I do wear an ear bud, I don’t have my music so loud that I can’t hear other things.

As an FYI, I found the infographic below this morning laying out the various state laws.  I have absolutely no idea how accurate the information on here is, but it at least gives a starting perspective as to state statutes relating to wearing headphones or earbuds while operating a vehicle.

Good luck and be safe!

infograpgic_final_2

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