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Sharing the road with headphones on

Posted by on September 3rd, 2005 at 10:18 am

There’s a great “Mr. Portland” comic strip by Joe Spooner in the Living section of today’s Oregonian. Here’s the text:

Bicyclists listening to music while they ride! Herumph! Why, I’ve had to put my latte AND my cell phone down SEVERAL times to avoid inattentive bicyclists! What are they doing in those narrow lanes anyway?!

spooner comic

All joking aside, wearing headphones while riding or driving is a terrible (yet too popular) idea. For a serious discussion of the legality of headphones, see this recent column on VeloNews.com by Porltand’s own biking lawyer, Bob Mionske.

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Jessica Roberts
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I invited Joe to go on a bike ride and maybe even participate in the Bike Commute Challenge. We’ll see what he replies.

Kent
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Kent

I frequently commute while listening to NPR news in one ear. It’s not loud and only in one ear. I don’t feel like it’s in any way unsafe.

It does scare me though to see some of the bike messenger types who do urban combat riding on busy downtown streets and sidewalks with their iPods at full volume.

I’m not sure if this is really the biggest safety problem facing cycling, but if the state is going to wade in with some silliness then at least let people ride with headphones on one ear. Or else ban car stereos while you’re at it too. How is driving around in a sound-proof luxury car with the stereo going any different than wearing headphones?

Kent
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Kent

And while we’re at it, what about walking with an iPod on? Every year there are idiots who get splattered by trains while walking on train tracks with headphones. I’m sure there are pedestrians wearing headphones who step out into traffic and get smacked also. Why is it just bikes?

Dweezil Cornbread
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Dweezil Cornbread

Wearing headphones whilst cycling makes cycling slight less safe than it is without headphones. We still have fewer visual obstructions than automobile drivers and they, pretty much without exception, hear nothing from outside the vehicle. (And that’s the ideal for an automobile designer, right?)

I used to be completely opposed to wearing headphones while riding. I lectured my roommate on the topic not six months ago — then I tried it. There is really no distraction and I’m still more aware of my surroundings than the people encased in their battering rams.

D.

gonzo
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gonzo

I’m not opposed to anyone wearing headphones – just as I believe motorcyclists shouldn’t be forced to wear helmets. Its an individual decision of a rider to safeguard themselves. I think we’ve gone way overboard in thinking that society is responsible to save the individual from him/herself. Bikers of both genres often fail to obey traffic laws, but bicycle riders (myself included in both) have upset me far more than once when they place themselves in danger and blame me, when a motorist, for not looking out for them. I ride motorcycle, bicycle and drive a car, about equally. I have to say that pedal bikers are among the most infuriating folks on the road. Bicycalists may be right more often than not, unfortunately they are, on occassion, DEAD RIGHT. Its all well and good to put the responsibility on car drivers, but until everyone gets their shit together and follow the rules of the road, and learn some courtesy, people are going to die and get hurt – for what I see is more a matter of egomania than true belief in a moral cause. So go ahead, be as right as rain, be dead right and see what it accomplishes.

Emily
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Emily

What about using an audio system with speakers rather than headphones? Do people think they are as unsafe as headphones? Why not address the desire acting here: to listen to audio material – expecially music – on your bike, with something other than headphones? I have yet to see a good small, mass produced audio system for a bike. Has anyone seen one? Who’s got suggestions for a good homemade system? Or is the degredation of sound quality (when you crank a little system up loud enough to hear to over the wind) just unacceptable to people?

jeff
Guest

i think the most important part of the column is the final sentence:

Lastly, if you are using a personal music device and are injured in an accident with a negligent driver, it is certain that the insurance company will attempt to pin some or all the blame on you, making recovery of your damages more difficult.

Jason
Guest

I’ve been riding bikes for 30 years and really really am still not a good enough rider to consider wearing headphones while riding – especially in town. I need all my senses working overtime!

Gonzo expresses his name and irascible irresponsiblity with his libertarian attitude. Yes, if he’s injured in an accident because he has headphones or no helmet, or is balancing on his head, he pays a premium with his health and with pain. But we all bear the burden of his craziness by its effect on our health insurance, car insurance, or other public or semi-public resource deployed to take care of him post-injury.

Bryan
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Bryan

I have been commuting by bike for the last few years, and I have to say that it is enjoyable to do so while listening to my headphones. I make sure that they are low enough on the volume so that I can hear the world around me, so I don’t see it as any tremendous problem.

I agree with those who say that this is hardly the greatest issue confronting the bike community, and I personally feel that the headphone issue is commonly used as a scapegoating tool for people to blame bikers for being invloved in accidents.

patrick
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patrick

I ride with headphones. Is is completely safe? Probably not, is Mt. Biking racing safe? no, is smoking cigarettes? no, driving a car? , no, playing with fire? no…..

Todd
Guest
Todd

Having read Bob Mionske\’s article and the comments here, it is certainly implied that there is no Oregon or Portland statute that applies.

But just to be clear, in Portland and Oregon, is it legal to ride with headphones in one or both ears?