Legal Brief – Hear That Train Coming

I love music. I love to ride my bike. So why shouldn’t I do both at the same time while riding through the city?

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Question: I love music. I love to ride my bike. So why shouldn’t I do both at the same time while riding through the city?

There are many good reasons.The first reason is that riding a bicycle with headphones on is against the law. In my city of Vancouver, BC, the law against operating a bicycle while using headphones is clearly stated in Section 60A of the City of Vancouver Street and Traffic Bylaw Number 2849: “No person shall ride a bicycle upon a street while wearing headphones, or any other manufactured device capable of transmitting sound, over or in close proximity to both ears, except that this prohibition shall not apply to the wearing of a device designed and worn for the purpose of improving the wearer’s ability to hear sounds emanating from outside of the device.”

Many other cities have similar restrictions, making it important for you to know the rules of the road that apply to bicyclists in your city and province.

From a legal perspective, if a cyclist is involved in a collision while wearing headphones, and this is in breach of a bylaw, then this may be a foundation for an argument that the cyclist contributed to his or her own injuries. Even in cases where the cyclist had the right of way, the act of violating a headphone law could be used against them.

Hearing is essential to agility in traffic and a cyclist’s ability to respond to a dangerous situation. Deliberate sensory deprivation, as wearing headphones could be considered to be, can provide negligent motorists with a foothold in arguing that the cyclist provided contributory negligence.

Whether or not you are involved in a collision or ticketed for wearing headphones, from a safety perspective, I believe cyclists need to hear approaching cars, particularly those coming from behind or approaching in circumstances where they can’t first be seen. The ability to hear the vehicles around you is especially important for cyclists navigating traffic circles.

In addition to motor vehicles, it is also important to hear the sound of another bike approaching from behind. If another cyclist indicates that they’re about to pass you with their bike bell, you won’t be able to hear them over a Motörhead tune and risk a collision.

From both a legal and a safety perspective, I encourage you to pull out those earplugs and instead whistle a tune while you ride.  


David Hay is a litigation lawyer and partner at Richards Buell Sutton LLP. He has a special interest in bike injury law and can be contacted at 
1-604-661-9250 or dhay@rbs.ca.

3 Comments

  • Mike Carrier

    I’ve only used my ipod once while using my bike and have never felt so foolish (and lucky to have survived). Your ears are your second greatest safety feature and to voluntarily de-activate them is sheer stupidity, but I also see pedestrians (almost daily) obliviously walk into traffic because of headphones/earbuds. Are you going to charge them too?

  • Ken Ohrn

    Hi David: thanks for writing this. I never like to place myself in a vulnerable position, whether physical, mental, or legal.

  • Jon

    My understanding is that lots of municipalities allow for cyclists to use one earbud or earphone at a time. While I agree that it is generally unwise to ride with earphones, the law cited by you in Vancouver seems to allow for this, as well as the law in NYC.:

    N.Y.S. VEHICLE AND TRAFFIC LAW § 375- Equipment
    (24-a) It shall be unlawful to operate upon any public highway in this state a motor
    vehicle, limited use automobile, limited use motorcycle or bicycle while the operator is
    wearing more than one earphone attached to a radio, tape player or other audio device.

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