Listening to music during long rides can make the miles slip away, but not every state lets you use earbuds and other listening devices over or in your ears. Knowing what type of equipment states allow you to use can be a challenge.
Most states do not address listening devices in their laws or rules, so riding while using earbuds would not be illegal. Other states ban the use of devices that transmit sound into both ears while allowing them for use in only one ear. To add to the complexity are states with special rules for systems installed in motorcycle helmets.
In order to help you to sort through the various rules, we offer a look at the laws in each state. Keep in mind that laws change, so the best practice is to check them before going on a ride that takes you across state lines.
Earbuds vs. Headsets vs. Built-Ins
Several varieties of devices exist for listening to music or communicating with a passenger or with riders on other motorcycles, including the following:
- Earbuds: Engineers reduced the size of the components of headphones that cover your ears to rest and be held in place outside of the ear canal.
- Headsets: A headset puts one or two speakers on the ears and is held in place by a band that rests across the top of the head. Headsets are generally equipped with a microphone and used to communicate with other riders or passengers.
- Built-ins: Some motorcycle helmets have speakers built into them allowing riders to listen to music or communicate with other people when they are equipped with a microphone.
Whichever type of listening or communication system you choose, ensure that it does not completely block outside sounds. Not only would it violate the law in some states, but the inability to hear car horns and sirens creates a safety hazard.
State-By-State Guide To Headphones Laws
Knowing the law in your home state regarding the use of headphones may keep you on the right side of the law, but you may run into trouble when traveling across state lines. Each state has its own rules pertaining to the use of devices commonly used to receive and transmit sound.
Whether used in order to listen to music or equipped with a microphone to stay in touch with your passenger or to communicate with fellow travelers, devices that go in or over your ears may not be legal in states you plan to visit while traveling. To help you stay up to date on the laws in your state and in states you may visit with your motorcycle, the following guide offers a brief look at the laws in each state and the District of Columbia.
As a general rule, the law in Alaska prohibits the use by drivers of all vehicles of headphones, headsets, or headgear equipped for receiving and transmitting while driving. It also prohibits noise-reducing ear plugs that interfere with a driver’s ability to hear while operating a motor vehicle. There is, however, a part of the law specifically allowing riders of motorcycles to use such devices to communicate between a passenger and operator riding on a motorcycle or with people on other motorcycles.
Anyone operating a motor vehicle, which includes a motorcycle, cannot wear headphones, earphones, earbuds, or similar devices in or covering both ears. However, the law allows the use of noise dampening earplugs provided they do not prevent you from hearing sirens or horns. The use of devices to assist hearing-impaired riders or motorists is permitted.
You cannot wear earphones and similar devices covering or inserted in both ears. The law allows the use of headsets or devices built into helmets that only cover one ear, including devices equipped with microphones.
It is not illegal to wear headphones or similar devices while riding a motorcycle in Delaware. The state does have a law prohibiting their use by bicycle riders, so it would not be a surprise if state officials extended the prohibition to include motorcycle riders. It is better to be safe and check the status of the law for any changes that may occur in the future.
Other than a hearing aid or similar device for the hearing impaired, headphones and other listening devices are generally prohibited in the Sunshine State. You may, however, use a helmet equipped with speakers provided they do not make direct contact with your ears and prevent you from hearing surrounding sounds.
Use of a headset or headphones while operating a motor vehicle, which would include a motorcycle, is illegal. It appears from the wording of the law, specifically the use of “headset” and “headphone” and the fact that it permits using them for purposes of communication, that state officials mean for the law to apply to devices used over or in both ears that would block outside sounds.
State law makes it illegal to operate a motorcycle while wearing headphones or similar devices inserted into or over both ears. A device covering or in only one ear is permitted under the law. It is a secondary violation of the law, so it cannot serve as the sole reason for a police officer stopping a motorcycle operator.
State law limits the use of headphones and similar devices to in or over only one ear. An exception applies to earplugs used to protect your hearing from loud noise provided they do not cancel all sounds, including sirens and horns. The law also permits the use of hearing aids.
Headphones and earbuds may not be illegal in the state, but a public service bulletin put out by the Michigan State Police warns that you could be cited for reckless driving or other violations of the law if a police officer proves their use interfered with the operation of your motorcycle.
It is a violation of state law for operators of motor vehicles to use earphones, headphones, earplugs, and similar devices in or covering more than one ear. However, earplugs or earphones worn by motorcycle operators to protect them from noise while riding are permitted under the law.
The general rule under Pennsylvania law is that use of headphones or earphones is prohibited. There are, however, two exceptions. The first is when a device that covers or is inserted into only one ear is used along with a cellphone. The other exception lets motorcycle riders use it in connection with communication equipment provided it only involves the use of one year.
Generally, the use of headphones and similar devices while riding a motorcycle is prohibited in the state. However, the use of listening devices directing sound only through one ear and systems built into a helmet as long as the speakers do not directly contact the ears are permitted under Rhode Island law.
Use of earphones while riding a motorcycle is a violation of the law in Virginia when the device transmits sound through both ears. Communication systems installed in helmets and hearing aids are permitted.
District of Columbia
A law passed at the end of 2020 by the Council of the District of Columbia prohibits the use of headphones or earbuds that cover or go into both ears of the operator of a motor vehicle. The law would apply to motorcycles, which are classified as motor vehicles, but it allows a motorcycle rider to use a headset covering only one ear or a single earbud. The law exempts devices used to augment sound when used by someone with a hearing impairment.
Best Headphones for Motorcycle Helmets
When in the market for headphones or earbuds that fit under a motorcycle helmet look for brands offering the following features:
- Noise reduction: Wind noise makes it impossible to hear music or conversations while riding, but some headphones and earbuds come with noise-dampening features that make it possible to hear the sounds transmitted through them.
- Bluetooth connectivity: The ability to wirelessly connect your listening or communication device to a phone or communication equipment lets you eliminate annoying wires.
- Microphone: Devices with built in microphones let you communicate with passengers and other riders.
Several brands on the market offer these and other features, so decide on the features that are important to you and try out several different types and brands before choosing one to buy.
Best Built-In Bluetooth Helmets
The best built-in bluetooth helmets let you maintain control over your motorcycle by incorporating all controls for the music source or communication system through the helmet without having a separate device that may or may not fit under the helmet that you use. Battery life is another important consideration. A system that gets you through the day without needing to recharge the battery avoids losing use of the sound or communication system when you need it, so get one with a long battery life between charges.
Best Motorcycle Headsets
If you prefer a headset that is not already built into your helmet, there are plenty available from which to choose. The features to look for to help you to choose the best motorcycle headsets include:
- Bluetooth connectivity: Bluetooth avoids wires that can interfere with controlling a motorcycle.
- Range: Models allowing communication between multiple headsets must have sufficient range to avoid losing contact with each other.
- Clarity: Test different headsets to find one offering the best sound quality.
Make certain the headset comfortably fits under the helmet that you normally use. A headset that is too bulky may be impossible to wear under your helmet.
Keep It Safe, Keep It Legal
Your first priority in the selection of headphones or similar devices must be safety. Anything that distracts you from maintaining control over your motorcycle puts you and others at risk.
If you find yourself in trouble for violating a state’s headphone law or need someone to handle a claim for compensation after an accident, legal advice and representation are essential. Wherever and whenever the need arises, an experienced motorcycle attorney makes a difference.