(Disclaimer – This article is not intended as safety advice. This article is for informational purposes only.)
I love to listen to music in my car or on a run, but I have only ridden my bike with earphones a couple of times. It seems like a good idea until you can hear the cars around you and you almost get into an accident.
Biking with earbuds is less safe than biking without them. Earphones can distract you and limit your ability to hear what’s going on around you. How and where your bike will determine how safe they are to use.
In this article we’ll talk about the various biking situations you might find yourself in and what you can do to limit the danger you may face as a cyclist. We’ll discuss how safe earbuds are in these situations.
If you’re new to cycling, it may seem like a good idea to go for a ride and listen to your favorites music. While that may seem safe, new cyclists need to get used to cycling in different areas without their earbuds first.
They need to get used to car traffic and learn how to navigate safely through intersections, lane transitions, learning hand signals, and how to ride in traffic and the bike lane. I would suggest new riders spend a couple of months riding regularly before they consider using earbuds while riding.
Expert riders can still get into accidents with cars because drivers aren’t always aware of cyclists on the road. That’s why new riders need to get used to car traffic behavior and how to safely navigate many situations that can occur while riding their bike.
Those who have been riding for a while with car traffic can predict better what situations are safer and less safe. They know how important it is to be aware of their surroundings and how unexpected car behavior should be their focus when riding on the street.
Experienced cyclists can navigate traffic fairly well and some do wear earbuds on their ride. Yet, they don’t let the music overpower their ability to hear and sense what is going on around them. They know they need all their senses to be alert to the dangers of the cars and road obstacles around them.
One way to stay safe while riding and wearing earbuds is to only use one earbud. Keep the music to a less distracting level and you’ll still be able to hear what’s going on around you. The following video gives you some more good examples of riding on the street and how to stay safe.
If we can make ourselves visible to car traffic and follow the rules of the road, we are likely to avoid a lot of the accidents that can occur for many cyclists. Many cyclists want to take risks, but nearly get in an accident or end up hitting a car.
It takes years of practice to become an expert at handling difficult traffic situations, so for the average rider, it is important to only wear earbuds in the safest situations. On the road, our first goal should be safety.
Consider Cycling With Earbud & When Not To
Let’s begin this section with what we know about biking statistics and how that might help us know when to ride with earbuds or not.
One reason cyclists want to listen to music is that they are on a long bike ride. Riding on roads with few cars may seem to some to be safe to ride on with earbuds. According to the iihs.org cyclists who rode on minor roads and rural areas were less likely to be in a fatal accident.
Females riders were less much less likely to get into fatal accidents as well as those who wear helmets. In addition, the time of day that cyclists were safest was midnight to 6 am and 9 am-noon. (iihs.org)
“Studies conducted by Brunel University also implied that users were up to 10 percent less responsive to potential risks.” (cyclingweekly.com)
This information helps us recognize some patterns about riding safely. Namely, that the place and time we ride can influence our safety.
Wearing earbuds on a paved path made for cyclists, such as a path along the beach, is a great example of where to use your earbuds. Riding on a mountain trail is also likely a good place to listen to some music.
On roads shared with car and motorcycle traffic, we need to weigh our options carefully. Accidents can happen in the best of conditions, so choosing wisely how to use your earbuds is vital to your safety.
What’s Worked For Me
In my experience, it is a more enjoyable experience to wear both earbuds while riding but I found it fairly difficult to hear the sound around me.
I have tried using one earbud when cycling to help maintain a level of alertness to my surroundings and to hear the sounds around me so I could remain safe.
I found that I ended up not really enjoying using one earbud as much as if I had both earbuds. I decided it was better to not wear any earbuds and enjoyed my ride just about as much as if I was listening to music.
If I’m on a rural road, it can be enjoyable to be mostly alone and enjoy the scenery as I ride and explore new places. Riding without the worry of heavy car traffic makes the ride a joy to experience. I don’t need to listen to music to have an enjoyable time.
In the city, I need to keep much more alert to my surroundings. I can’t wear earbuds without the possibility of getting into an accident fairly easily. Music might be nice to have on a city bike trip, but the distraction isn’t worth it to me.
Compare When To Wear Earbuds or Not
Of all the traffic on the road, cyclists tend to be more aware of their surroundings and of the dangers that may occur. They tend to hear and see what traffic is doing, although being aware of the traffic behind them isn’t easy for many cyclists.
Even though they are careful, about 2.1% of all accidents involve cyclists in the U.S. So wearing earbuds is likely to increase our chance of getting into one of those accidents. So when should we wear earbuds?
When to Consider Wearing Earbuds
- On off-road mountain bike trails.
- On paths for pedestrian and bike traffic only.
- When you can wear one or both earbuds and still clearly hear all the traffic sound around you.
- When you can travel on roads with no car traffic.
- When the music can enhance your ability to deal with “dangerous environments.”(cyclingweekly.com)
- During times of low traffic, 9 am-noon. Less chance of fatal injury at this time.
When NOT to Wear Earbuds
- On roads with regular car traffic.
- When earbuds interfere with the hearing of traffic sounds.
- When you listen to music and are distracted or zoned out.
- When you are over 20 years old and male because you are at greater risk of a fatal injury.
- When your earbud keeps falling out or the wires are distracting you while you ride.
- When your other senses are impaired such as low visibility (fog or nighttime) or it’s very cold (fingers are getting numb).
Is Wearing Earbuds Legal When Cycling?
In most states, it is legal to wear earbuds while biking, but in some states, you can only wear one earbud. Other states prohibit the use of earphones and headphones for drivers and bicyclists.
It is important to note that distracted driving and distracted biking are usually considered very similar under the law. If you cause an accident because you were distracted on your bike, it may be the same as causing an accident in your car.
You might be at fault even when a car hits you if you have earbuds on. Wearing earbuds implies your listening to music and that they may be distracting you.
Some states consider a bicycle the same as any other motorized vehicle on the road. So, if car drivers can wear earphones while driving, then bikes can too. If they can’t wear earphones while driving, you can’t wear earphones while on your bike.
If you are caught wearing earbuds and it is against the law, you may get a ticket and need to pay a fine. If you are in an accident, “you may be found to be liable for negligence even if the other person was also negligent.” (bicyclelaw.com)
This map shows the laws for each state regarding the use of earbuds while using your bike. I included the laws for cars as well to help clarify what the differences are and which state applies the law to both bikers and motor vehicles.
When it comes to the law, wearing earbuds may be left up to a judge to decide whether it violated the law even if the state has no specific laws prohibiting their use. If I was found distracted by having earbuds then I will likely have a judgment ruling against me if I had an accident.
(Some of the choices I made when making this map were my own interpretations based on articles I read. Such as where I read that in Georgia drivers can’t use earphones if they impair hearing (drivinglaws.aaa.com) and that bicycles are considered the same as cars under the law. (georgiabikes.org) So in Georgia, I decided to mark that using earbuds in both cars or bikes is not legal.)
The advice I would follow when considering riding a bike with headphones is, not to do it if it is unsafe at all. I would avoid using headphones or earbuds in the city and avoid using them if the law says I can’t.
For children, I would suggest not wearing earbuds until they are adults. Children can be more distracted. less coordinated, and less experienced while riding on the road. They need the guidance of adults to help them make the most responsible decisions while using their bikes.
Biking with earbuds is sometimes safe and other times not very safe. If we consider the time and place of our bike ride we can better make safe decisions for when to use earbuds or not.
Becoming an experienced rider before we wear earbuds helps us better navigate roads and traffic situations. Later we can use earbuds if the situation is safe and if it is legal in our state. This will help us stay safer as we ride in many different types of road and traffic conditions.
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