Discussions on bike safety are influencing laws and safety programs throughout California. It was only natural that a discussion about earbuds while driving or biking would also arise and eventually lead to new laws.
While there are no statistics regarding a link between earbuds and accidents, states take note on how shutting off from the world can render you less aware of your surroundings. Inserting earbuds increases music immersion but also do so too well. Play music loud enough to use high-quality earbuds without music, and you are less likely to hear sirens, horns, or pay full attention to the road. That is why California joined 13 states in placing a restriction on earbuds. (Four states went further and completed banned them.)
California already had a law restricting over-the-ear headphone styles, but starting January 1, 2016, that law expanded to include earbuds. Here is what you need to know to avoid a ticket and perhaps a biking or car accident as well.
Earbud Laws—Then and Now
California earbud laws regarding driving or biking is codified under Section 27400 of the CA Vehicle Code. In its original text, the law restricted over-the-ear headphones and earplugs. Earbuds were assumed to be legal because they law contained no restrictions on inserted ear accessories.
That changed with Senate Bill 491. In section 55, it expanded the restriction to include not only headphones but also “earplugs in or earphones covering, resting on, or inserted in, both ears.” The DMV provided a press release at the end of December warning motorists of the new restrictions so they would be sure to comply.
Failure the follow the law results in a fine up to $160 and court costs. There is no indication whether the offense needs to be discovered in a traffic stop or if it can be an independent reason to stop a driver.
There are exceptions to the law and they are limited to particular professionals and situations. They include:
- Operators of an emergency vehicle
- Operators of highway maintenance or construction equipment
- Workers in the refuse collection industry
- People wearing personal hearing protectors designed to control injurious noise levels
- People wearing hearing assistance devices.
Even if you fall under an exception, you still need to proceed cautiously. Workers wearing headphones or ear plugs for hearing protection must still be able to hear sirens or horns from emergency vehicles. While people do have the right to preserve their hearing, they cannot do so to the extent that they become a public safety hazard.
How This Affects You
Following the law should be fairly simple as its existence does not surprise most citizens. Bicycle messengers, for example, long noticed the danger in wearing two earbuds while on the road, noting that there is too much going on to take the risk. Generally, bicyclists do not wear two earbuds at once. Motor vehicle operators may be more apt to break the law because of feelings of invincibility, but with no statistics on this, it is hard to say how it will play out.
It is important to note that even if you are not playing any sound through your earbuds, wearing both remains illegal. The law addresses wearing earbuds, not whether they are producing sound. Be aware that if your calls are set to silent mode or you have your music paused for the drive you can still be ticketed for just wearing the earbuds.
However, wearing a bud in one ear technically remains legal. If you are in the habit of wearing one earbud to get a little background music or be ready to catch a telephone call, you may continue to do so even under the new law.
If you work in trash collection, highway maintenance or construction, your activities may fall under the exceptions. Check your industrial ear protection to see if it works well enough to filter injurious noise but still makes it possible for you to hear a horn or siren. You can verify this by checking the ratings. It is likely worth it to know for certain as over-zealous ear protection can result in a fine, even if you are using it for work reasons.
The new Section 27400 intends to keep drivers and bicyclists safer by encouraging them to be aware. If you have been involved in motor vehicle or bicycle accident because another operator was wearing earbuds in violation of the law, contact Appel Law Firm LLP at 1-888-511-6905 for a free consultation.