Can (and should) bicyclists in Florida wear headphones?
I was recently asked if cyclists in Florida could wear headphones while riding their bikes. Of course, I had to give the cliché lawyer answer: “It depends.”
The reason is because the law governing this area gives plenty of exceptions.
Let me first begin by saying my advice is not to wear headphones or blast music while riding your bicycle or e-scooter. You need to be able to clearly hear your surroundings, including car traffic, other cyclists, your own bicycle, pedestrians, e-scooter riders, and many other things. As a cyclist or rider, hearing what is going on around you can keep you safe. And if you are injured in the event of a crash, you can be sure the driver's insurance defense attorneys will blame you for wearing your earbuds.
That aside, Florida law allows cyclists to do it…sort of.
Section 316.304 of the Florida Statutes states that no person shall operate a vehicle while wearing a headset, headphone, or other listening device. It’s important to point out that the statute specifically states “vehicle” instead of “motor vehicle,” which means it applies to anything that can be drawn on the road, including bicycles, e-bikes, and e-scooters. A violation of the law is punishable as a non-criminal traffic infraction.
The law then goes on to provide a list of exceptions when headphones could be used while operating a vehicle. Related to our discussion, one of the exceptions states that headphones could be worn in conjunction with a cell phone so long as only one ear received sounds from the headphone and the other ear could hear surrounding sounds.
So if one ear was covered by a headset or earbud and the other ear was exposed and could hear the surrounding sounds, then it would be legal to ride while doing so. Another example would be a Bluetooth earbud in one ear while riding or driving, allowing the second ear to be able to hear the surroundings.
The law isn’t clear on whether the cell phone could be used only for communications purposes or whether listening to your favorite Spotify playlist or to a navigation app would be allowed. Since that section of the law was passed in 1992, I’m not sure the Legislature contemplated iPhones or streaming apps. But since the law doesn’t specify, it would presumably allow for it. Interesting to note (and me getting into the legal weeds) the law clearly doesn’t allow for an iPod or other music playing device, including the Walkman cassette players that were so prevalent in the early 1990s. With improving technology, there are headphones available to cyclists that mount forward of the ear which would presumably be allowed under this law, like the Shokz bone conduction headphones.
When I answered with “it depends,” I wasn’t being the usual lawyer. It depends on whether that cyclist kept one ear exposed while listening on their cell phone. But even though the law may allow it, my advice again is to stay unplugged. Enjoy the sights and sounds as you ride while staying safe and alert to your surroundings.