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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 ride a bicycle 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 (443) 251-3497.

Can You Ride a Bicycle 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:

Bicycles Are Treated Like Vehicles

Under Md. Code, Transp. Art., § 21-1202, anyone cycling or riding a 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 cyclists. 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 Cycling 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 cycling is illegal under § 21-1124.2 unless you’re making an emergency call. So this law is a good compromise that allows cyclists to use their phone safely while cycling 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 cycling 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 cyclist is in the bicycle lane cycling along the street with headphones in. If a car behind them loses control and starts honking at them to move, but the cyclist cannot hear it, they could be hit by the car. Courts and insurance companies might find that the cyclist’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.

Can You Sue for Bike Injuries If You Were Wearing Headphones in Maryland?

As mentioned, Maryland law allows you to wear one headphone while cycling. This means that, regardless of other factors involved in the crash, wearing a single earphone or ear bud should not be grounds to block you from suing after being injured. However, wearing two headphones could absolutely be enough to block you from suing for injuries, even if the driver who hit you was being careless when the crash happened.

Because of the strict contributory negligence rules in Maryland, even slight fault on the part of the victim in an accident can block their right to sue and recover damages. If wearing headphones was a factor that contributed to causing your crash, then you could be barred from a lawsuit.

However, the defendant would have to plead contributory negligence as a defense to the case. The court cannot immediately throw out your case without some sort of proof – it is usually left to the jury to decide whether the defendant’s claim of contribution is true.

If you were wearing headphones, the defendant will have to show that that was a contributing factor in the crash. If you could not have reasonably acted to avoid the crash with or without headphones, this should be an impossible claim to prove. Similarly, if the accident had nothing to do with the fact that you had headphones on, then the defense would be a weak one. For example, if the driver hit you head on where you could see them, the headphones likely would not have contributed to the crash. Similarly, if the driver did not honk or was driving a quiet electric car, any hearing reduction would be a non-issue in your case.

As mentioned, the decision as to whether or not wearing headphones contributed to your crash is a question for the jury to decide, not the judge or the defendant. However, if the case is merely filed as an insurance claim, that could leave the decision with the insurance company. It might be better to talk to a lawyer about filing in court.

Penalties for Wearing Headphones While Cycling in Maryland

If you are caught wearing headphones while riding a bicycle in Maryland, it could result in a ticket. It might sound strange to think that cyclists can be ticketed, but this is not an uncommon practice.

If you are involved in an accident and have committed a ticketable offense, it is possible that the police officer responding to the accident could ticket you. If this happens, then that ticket will be used as evidence that you were indeed wearing headphones in violation of the law. However, the defense must still prove that your use of headphones actually contributed to the crash for it to be used against you in your injury case.

For example, imagine a driver who failed to use a turn signal while changing lanes. If the driver that hit them was passed out drunk behind the wheel, they would not have seen the turn signal anyway. There, the lack of a turn signal can hardly be argued to have been a contributing factor in the crash. The same is true if your wearing headphones while riding a bicycle had no effect on your crash. However, this is an argument that must be tested before a judge and jury; you will have to take your case to court and fight the other driver’s defenses with the help of experienced bicycle accident lawyers.

Call the Maryland Bicycle 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 (443) 251-3497.