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Is it Illegal to Wear Headphones While Biking in Maryland?

Wearing headphones while on the move is a great way to keep yourself entertained.  However, headphones can interfere with your hearing and make it harder to keep track of people and traffic around you.  But what does the law have to say about biking with headphones on in Maryland?

Under Maryland law, it is illegal to drive a vehicle with headphones in/on both ears.  However, you can drive with a single earbud in.  The same rules apply to cyclists, making it illegal to bike with both headphones in in Maryland.  If you do have headphones on and get into an accident, this could potentially mean losing your case if your restricted hearing contributed to the crash.

For a free case review after an accident, call Rice, Murtha & Psoras’ Maryland bicycle accident lawyers today at (410) 694-7291.

Can You Bike with Headphones in Maryland?

When biking in Maryland, you have to follow any laws that specifically apply to bicycles, but you also have to follow the rest of the rules that usually apply to drivers and cars.  This includes Maryland’s law against driving with headphones.  Our Baltimore bicycle accident lawyers explain:

Bikes Are Treated Like Vehicles

Under Md. Code, Trans. Art., § 21-1202, anyone riding a bicycle or scooter has the same “rights” and “duties” as a driver.  That would mean that any restrictions on headphone use would also apply to cyclists and scooter riders.

There are exceptions to this rule for any rules that do not apply to a bicycle by its very nature, such as seat belt requirements.  However, there is a separate rule for headphone use that makes no exceptions for cyclists and would therefore apply to bicycles as well.

Headphone Laws

Under § 21-1120, you cannot operate a vehicle with earplugs, a headset, or earphones in or on both ears.  There are some exceptions, but only two of them are likely to apply to cyclists.

Exceptions are made for maintenance workers and trash collectors wearing ear protection while driving, but this exception likely does not apply to bike riders.  A similar exception is made for emergency workers, but outside of bicycle-mounted police, this exception is also unlikely to apply.

The more common exceptions will be the ones for “personal hearing protectors” or hearing aids.  While you usually cannot have both ears plugged at the same time under this rule, you are allowed to use custom hearing protection as long as your earplugs wouldn’t prevent you from hearing an emergency siren.  Moreover, you are always allowed to wear hearing aids if you use them.

Note the scope of this rule, too: it is only illegal to wear headphones in/over both ears.  That means it should be perfectly legal to wear a Bluetooth device for your phone or a single earbud while biking.  It should also be legal under the wording of this statute to wear headphones and keep one ear cup off your ear.

Can You Use Bluetooth Earbuds for Your Phone While Riding a Bike in Maryland?

As discussed above, the restrictions on headphones while biking would apply to Bluetooth devices for your phone as well.  However, most older styles of Bluetooth headsets use only one earphone, so they should not be treated as a violation of this rule.  Additionally, most modern wireless earbuds like Apple AirPods can function together or with only one earbud.  In any case, you can always take one headphone off if you have some other kind of headset or headphones.  As long as you have a free ear, you should not be in violation of Maryland’s headphone laws.

It would typically be more dangerous to take one hand off the handlebars to hold a phone to your ear while biking.  In fact, using a handheld phone while driving or biking is illegal under § 21-1124.2 unless you’re making an emergency call.  So this law is a good compromise that allows bikers to use their phone safely while riding and puts safety rules for cyclists in line with those for car and truck drivers.

How Maryland’s Headphone Ban While Biking Affects Bicycle Accidents

If you were violating these headphone rules while riding a bike and you were involved in an accident, that could potentially hurt your case.  If the fact that you were wearing headphones contributed to the crash, it could mean losing your right to sue entirely.

Headphones, earbuds, and earplugs that block your ability to hear your surroundings could be incredibly dangerous while biking.  Although you might feel confident that you can hear car horns and emergency sirens over your headphones, courts and insurance companies might not agree.

For example, imagine a scenario where a biker is in the bike lane riding along the street with headphones in.  If a car behind them loses control and starts honking at them to move, but the biker cannot hear it, they could be hit by the car.  Courts and insurance companies might find that the biker’s use of headphones contributed to the crash, which would implicate Maryland’s contributory negligence rules.

Under “pure” contributory negligence rules like those used in Maryland, a victim’s contribution to the cause of their accident blocks them from being able to sue for damages.  That means that even if the court finds you were 1% at fault for the accident, you are barred from getting compensation.

Going back to our example: if the court finds that you would not have been able to avoid the accident even if you could hear the warning honks, then your headphone use would not actually be a contributing factor in the crash, and you should still be entitled to damages.  Ultimately, every case comes down to the specific facts of the case when determining fault, and courts could rule either way.

Call the Maryland Bike Accident Lawyers at Rice, Murtha & Psoras Today

If you were hurt in a bicycle accident, contact the Maryland personal injury attorneys at Rice, Murtha & Psoras by calling (410) 694-7291.