Short Answer: Yes, in California it is legal to wear a listening device over one ear, but not both.
Going off of my friend Tom’s recent post about listening to music while riding, I thought I would clear the air as to what is legal and what is not when it comes to riding with motorcycle headphones.
The relevant statutes vary state-by-state, so I will go into detail on California law, since we are after all California-based.
California Vehicle Code 27400 states, “A person operating a motor vehicle or bicycle may not wear a headset covering, or earplugs in, both ears”.
Following this are a list of exceptions which will not apply to most normal drivers or riders, but if you would like to check them out, click the link above and you’ll be redirected to the specific California DMV Vehicle Code page. Some of the exceptions include hearing aids, operators of emergency vehicles and workers using construction equipment for highway maintenance.
Basically this law says that it is illegal to cover both ears with anything that will impair hearing. But it is legal to cover only one ear. So it’s as simple as leaving one of your earbuds out while driving or riding.
Are helmet-speaker systems legal in California?
Yes. Helmet speakers do not cover the ears like headphones, so they are legal for use. Helmet speakers are treated the same as speakers mounted directly to the bike (or car for that matter).
So there you have it. Of course, the absolute safest route is to avoid any distracting or inhibiting sounds to allow full concentration on your surroundings, but if you simply cannot be without your Celine Dion for the length of your commute then you are free to listen away. Just don’t let the fuzz catch you with headphones in both ears. The CVC 27400 fine can be as high as $200.
Better to learn the answer now than have a police officer tell you whether it’s legal to ride a motorcycle while wearing headphones in Calfornia.
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