Cycling Legalese is our online cycling law column from everyday cyclist and Chicago based injury lawyer, Brendan Kevenides.
People love to listen to music and it comes as no surprise that some people like to do it while riding their bicycle. What is the legality of combining bikes and music? It all depends on how and where you’re listening.
Q:I like listening to tunes while I ride. Is that illegal?
Generally, listening to music while riding a bike is not illegal. However, to know for sure whether doing so is okay or not, two questions must be answered: 1) How are you listening to your music? 2) Where are you?
If you are listening to music via a set of speakers mounted on your bike, then you are okay everywhere. I am not aware of any jurisdiction that bans the use of speakers on bikes for the purpose of listening to music, or anything else for that matter. (Of course, if you’ve got the Justin Bieber cranked to ear splitting levels you may run afoul of local noise ordinances and good sense/taste.) When it comes to bikes and music, what some jurisdictions regulate is the delivery method; in other words, headphones.
A few places have outlawed the use of headphones while biking on public roadways; for example, Florida and Rhode Island. Others have said it is okay so long as you have a headphone inserted in one ear only. California law states, “A person operating a motor vehicle or bicycle may not wear a headset covering, or earplugs, in both ears.” New York also allows headphone use in one ear only. In many states, it is perfectly legal to wear headphones while biking, such as in Oregon and Washington D.C. In 2011, an Oregon legislator, Rep. Michael Schaufler (D-Happy Valley) proposed a bill that would have made it illegal throughout the state to operate a bicycle “while wearing a listening device that is capable of receiving telephonic communication, radio broadcasts or recorded sounds.” Doing so would have resulted in a $90 penalty. Apparently, he told BikePortland.Org that he got the idea for the bill when he “just saw some guy driving down the street on their bike with their headphones on and thought, ‘He could get run over.’” He explained that to him it was “a safety issue.” The bill went nowhere.
Interestingly, in some places the applicability of headphone prohibitions to cyclists is misunderstood. That is the case in my home state, Illinois. Some well intentioned folks claim that it is illegal to bike with headphones here. For example, the City of Chicago states on its website that cyclists should never use earphones because it “is not only dangerous, it’s illegal.” That’s wrong. Neither city ordinance nor state law ban the use of headphones while riding a bike. The only statute that references headphones (it actually uses the term “headset receivers”) states that, “No driver of a motor vehicle on the highways of this State shall wear headset receivers while driving.” The emphases are mine. Under Illinois law, a bicycle is not a motor vehicle. Therefore, the prohibition of headphone use does not apply to people on bikes.
Perhaps the more interesting question is not whether it is legal, but whether it is wise to bike on city streets while wearing headphones. There are some important reasons not to do so. There are so many things the urban bicyclist must be attuned to while riding in the city: Trucks, cars, buses, potholes, pedestrians, lights, signs, little dogs, the weather, etc. It may be unwise to diminish one of your senses while navigating a bicycle through this gauntlet of hazards and distractions. By plugging your ears and pouring music into your fully occupied brain while biking you might increase your chances of getting into an accident. In fairness, however, I am not aware of any studies that suggest this is true. Our firm has not seen many cases in which the bicyclist’s use of headphones caused or contributed to cause a crash. On the other hand, if you are involved in a crash, particularly with a motor vehicle, and were found wearing headphones you may harm you chances of successfully seeking compensation for any injuries you receive. Certainly, the driver and his/her attorney will try to suggest that your inability to hear contributed to cause the crash and that compensation should be denied or at least diminished. You and your attorney would be best off not having to deal with the headphone issue should it become necessary to bring a claim or lawsuit.
I am cynical about the motives of those who would make biking with headphones illegal, like Rep. Schaufler in Oregon. I tend to doubt that the safety of the cyclist is the motivating factor behind such proposals. I suspect that the real concern is preventing sound impervious cyclists from slowing motor vehicle traffic. In other words, when I honk, get out of my way. Biking through the city should be pleasant, and for many, listening to music is a great way to ride and feel relaxed. Still, the benefits of headphone use are probably outweighed by the risks.
Cycling Legalese Question Submission Form:
Nothing contained in this column should be construed as legal advice. The information contained herein may or may not match your individual situation. Also, laws differ from place to place and tend to change over time. No reader should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information presented herein without seeking the advice of an attorney in the relevant jurisdiction. This column is meant to promote awareness of a general legal issue. As such, it is meant as entertainment. It does not create an attorney-client relationship between the author and the reader.
Yes, I have been more or less sidelined due to my ticker. No, that doesn’t mean I’m giving up polo. No, it doesn’t mean you can have my equipment. NO IT DOESN’T MEAN YOU CAN HAVE MY EQUIPMENT STOP ASKING.
While on a hopefully temporary sabbatical, I have the chance to sit down and fill you in on just a few of the happenings within the North American Bike Polo world. Let’s start our round up with upcoming tourneys:
First, let’s talk about Davis’s 3rd Annual Gentlemen’s Polo Deathmatch out of Davis, California. The tourney is held in the “blue cage of death,” and is free (donations are accepted, of course). Both days are listed as a “friendly 3×3 polo tournament,” so let’s just assume it’ll be Saturday placement and Sunday tourney. Hey, the price is right, and the blue cage of death sounds like a lot of fun for a weekend. Just remember to have a safe word.
The Decatur Illinois Bike Polo Gathering is going on July 27th and 28th, featuring one court with 2 foot walls, this shuffle tourney (you don’t go with a team, friend. You get one when you show up) features camping and food included. You also have a chance to win a Joust via raffle, and that’s kinda swell, isn’t it? At twenty bucks a head, why not, right? Seems like a fun time, and there is still plenty of space left to register.
Finally, we have The Last Stand IV, Apocalypse Later, which has such a reputation for being a great tourney that I really don’t even need to mention much more than this: it’s probably, really, actually going to be the last time this tourney is being put on. 75 bucks a team, includes food and dollar beers. It’s a tiny tourney of 16 teams only, so there’s a good chance that it’ll be all filled up by the time you read this, but you should give it the old college try anyway. The format is your typical swiss round Saturday to double elim Sunday, with boozing and partying peppered in-between. If you can make it, make it.
Now, normally I’d share something that caught my eye in the League of Bike Polo (ALL HAIL) forum at this point. I’d bring up the subject and discuss my thoughts on the matter. Well, the one I found was a discussion about what makes for top shelf shots (shots that leave the ground and fly in the air/into the goal). When I dove into the topic, however, I was met with the following:
Thinking of the moment immediately prior to impact. Is the face of the mallet moving at a constant rotational velocity, or is it still accelerating? Higher elastic deformation if accelerating, and I think adding wrist on gives just that much more at impact and follow-through. –Alias of DC Bike Polo, Robot.
I mean, I think I understand what Robot Alias was getting across, but come on. It’s polo. Let’s not think about it that much. Sheeeesh.
Anyway, I guess people are excited about figuring out the 1s and 0s of how to make a little ball fly in the air once being struck by a piece of plastic on a glorified ski pole. Keep on keeping on, polokins.
Moving over to new products, I can honestly say there isn’t very much popping up on the old Crusher-radar 2000. One thing that did come up just today is a very interesting little picture from Modifide of smaller Arc head (dubbed the Arc 4). It looks as though it’s taking into account an earlier drawing made that the Modifide group put together (I seem to remember the picture looking more like a cube), but still maintaining the hourglass figure. Note, however, that this will be a limited run, so as soon as these go live, snatch them up if you’re interested.
Fixcraft Friday is coming down the line, and with it will come—I can assume—at least one new color option for the Cleat mounting system. But it’s rare that the new color will be the only exciting deal happening this Friday, so put some coffee on and keep refreshing the page to see what else pops up at a great price.
As far as Northern Standard, Milwaukee, MILK, or Magic are concerned (yes, I know there are more companies than that), no news. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t check out what they’ve already got, of course, but there are no new products as of my typing. Get off my case, man.
So that’s your update, dear poloistas. I hope your summer tourneys are going swimmingly, and remember to drink plenty of water while you’re out there.