Wearing Headphones While Riding a Bike - is it Safe?

person riding a bike

You see it all the time. Bicyclists wear headphones to listen to music, podcasts, and fitness programs. Music can make riding more fun. But headphones and earbuds may have an impact on safety and may also have an impact on liability if the cyclist is injured or causes an accident.

Safety First

First and foremost, the question is safety for the cyclist. Cyclists have very little protection against vehicles. If a car hits a cyclist, the injuries can be severe. So, from the cyclist’s perspective, the safety question has to do with whether headphones preclude an important pre-accident “cue” that a car or other danger to the cyclist is approaching.

A 2011 study found that a cyclist listening to music with standard earbuds, particularly in-ear buds, experienced reduced sensory awareness while cycling. In general, the cyclist had a poorer response to outside auditory signals. These cyclists missed auditory signals to stop 68% of the time. However, when only one earbud was used, the cyclists did not miss any stop signs. These results have negative implications for traffic safety while using earbuds. 

Some headphones allow more external noises to enter the ear. Some headphones have open backs, which allow the cyclist to hear more external noise. Noise-canceling headphones are not advised.

Liability Problems with Cyclists and Headphones

The biggest issue with headphones in Florida, including the Tampa area, is that headphones are illegal to use while driving a motor vehicle, and by extension, a bike. Florida law prohibits anyone from operating a motor vehicle while wearing a headset, headphones, or other listening devices. The law does not apply to any person using a headset with a cell phone that only provides sound through one ear and allows surrounding sounds to be heard with the other ear. Headphones covering both ears are allowed when not on a road. This can include bike paths and other off-road biking.

Breaking this law can result in a traffic citation. The real issue, though, is how breaking this law affects liability in an accident. Liability for an accident can fall with the driver of another vehicle that hits the cyclist, with the cyclist who is riding while distracted, or with both.

When the cyclist is injured while riding with headphones, any recovery from a culpable driver may be reduced if using the headphones helped cause the accident. The recovery reduction will reflect the proportion of liability assigned to the cyclist.

Most often, it is the cyclist who sues the driver as it is most often that the driver will be the party who is negligent. Negligence is the failure to take appropriate care under the circumstances to protect others to whom you owe that duty. Cyclists and drivers owe a duty of care to those with whom they share the roadway.

If an allegation of negligence can be proven on anyone’s part, then the other party generally has a right to sue for damages. A cyclist can be sued if their actions caused an accident. So, it is best to leave the earbuds at home or use just one. These issues can be complex. Bring your questions and concerns to a trusted bike accident attorney in the Tampa area.

Speak with a Tampa Bike Accident Attorney

With the advent of increased cycling on the roads, we will likely continue to see increasing numbers of bicycle accidents. If you or a loved one has been injured in a bike accident, bring us your questions. We at Matthews Injury Law provide thorough and compassionate legal services to our clients. Call or contact us today to see what we can do for you. In Tampa, call our office at 813-530-1000 or fill out our contact form today to learn more.