Ask LH: Am I Allowed To Wear Headphones While Riding A Motorbike?

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Ask LH: Am I Allowed To Wear Headphones While Riding A Motorbike?

Dear Lifehacker, What is the legal status of wearing in-ear headphones while riding a motorcycle in NSW? Maybe my Google-fu is slipping, but I can’t find a solid answer. I’d like to use headphones to hear the GPS on my phone, especially when travelling to new areas. But, I’m a law abiding rider (I even obey the stupid laws!), and I don’t want any trouble from the police. Please help!Thanks, Rizzo

Dear Rizzo,

The reason it’s difficult to find a clear answer on this is because headphones aren’t mentioned anywhere in NSW’s road rules; or any other state’s as far as we can tell. The good news is that using earphones while riding your bike is not prohibited in Australia. After all, there are no laws against playing your car stereo at distracting volumes, so why should motorcyclists be singled out?

With that said, police and road safety organisations strongly advise against this practice as it can compromise your awareness of surrounding traffic conditions. This could potentially come back to bite you in the event of an accident. Under Australian road rules, any distraction that causes a driver not to have proper control of a vehicle can result in a charge of negligent driving.

Listening to an occasional GPS prompt is unlikely to cause a significant distraction to your driving. However, if the other party attempts to blame the accident on your headphones, it will basically be your word against theirs. For all the police know, you were rocking out to Manowar at the time of the accident.

So in short, you’re not going to get booked by the cops simply for riding around with headphones on. But if something goes wrong, it could lead to complications in court. Wear at your own risk!

Cheers
Lifehacker

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Comments

    • Any chance you’ve used a Scala? Thinking about swapping to sena, my Scala is super clear for Mic, but the ear prices are god awful.

      • Actually no I haven’t, and I must admit the Sena (I’ve got the SMH10) is exactly the same. Great mic, terrible speakers.

  • I installed some flat mini soft speakers in my helmet. Velcro’d internally to the sides they aren’t as intrusive sitting in my ears which can get uncomfortable after a long ride. Great for listening to the radio or GPS. Even had it set up so the plug was at the base of the helmet, so would disconnect when ever I took my helmet off and not get all tangled up.

    • I’ve always worried this would invalidate the safety rating of my helmet. But then again, chances are I’ll be dead if this needs to be tested.

  • Use only for GPS directions and you are fine. No way for them to ‘prove’ you were listening to music or something.

    You could also try bone conduction headphones that don’t cover your ears.

  • After all, there are no laws against playing your car stereo at distracting volumes…There should be. I see a lot of emergency vehicles waiting to enter an intersection because other drivers are oblivious to their presence, even with lights and sirens.

    • Modern cars have pretty good sound deadening. Especially luxury cars. Add to that nobody paying attention and half those people probably aren’t even listening to music. They’re just zoned out on autopilot.

  • One of the reasons I asked this question, although I forgot to mention it in the OP, was that motorcyclists who ride at highway speeds are subjected to significant wind noise. In fact, a bunch of medical journals recommend wearing earplugs (e.g., http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC539364/). There are plenty of safety sites that recommend them too (e.g., http://www.hearingtestlabs.com/motorcycle.htm, http://www.msgroup.org/Tip.aspx?Num=150).

    Since in-ear headphones provide reasonable sound isolation (good ones, anyway), it seems like you could make a good argument for wearing them anyway. The suggestions that @drcollossus, @dknigs, and @lemontang suggest don’t really provide safety benefits. Also, I don’t see why a bluetooth system in a helmet (using the “cups” speakers) are considered safe but in-ear headphones wouldn’t be.

    p.s., @chrisjager can you remove my name from the post? It’s unusual enough a name that it’s recognisable.

    • I honestly can’t get my helmet on with headphones on, it’s like being born. Being a shark though it has space for speakers in the helmet.

    • The Bluetooth system provides a number of significant advantages over in ear headphones. First of all it has a big chunky click wheel that is easily operable with motorcycle gloves. Also as we’ve all mentioned the microphones are wind isolating and specifically designed for use in motorcycle helmets. If you want anyone to hear you your in ear headphones just aren’t going to cut it. They also operate as intercoms with other riders when on group rides. Of course they’re a lot more expensive than (some) in ear headphones, especially if you’ve already got some. But you should consider the advantages above and work out whether it’s worth the investment.

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