Though laws prohibiting drivers and cyclists from wearing headphones or earplugs in both ears have been on the books for years, it wasn't until January, 2016, that the law was extended to apply to earbuds. Numerous San Francisco cyclists, at least one driver, and one scooter rider appeared to be flouting that new law, KRON 4's Stanley Roberts learned this week. Were their actions out of ignorance or defiance? Both, it appears in the video report you can watch below.
"For the most part," the California Bicycle Coalition writes, "bicyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as motor vehicle drivers." That's why the new earbud-specific law mentioned both, while excluding construction equipment operators, emergency vehicle drivers, and people who wear hearing aids. The use of headphones and earbuds is illegal even if no sound is coming out of them, or if they're worn above your ears, according to CBS Sacramento.
Wearing "one earbud is fine," Concord Police Cpl. Chris Blakely told CBS 5 last year, it's when you're wearing two that you're eligible for a citation that, with court fees, will be around $160.
Back in January, ABC 7 went out to ding some cyclists who were violating the brand-new law. One errant cyclist they nabbed, bike messenger Victoria Lowry, was contrite, saying "This is wrong kids, don't do that, don't put two headphones in," and said she agreed with the law she was breaking, saying that cycling in the city is "kind of crazy. I mean, there's a lot going on. You have pedestrians, you people on bikes, the cars."
But even though even Lowry agreed with the law, not everyone does! CityLab last year argued that the ban "misses the point," and the laws should be focused on cellphone use, not devices in the ears. In fact, they write, bans like California's "may actually work against city goals to encourage more riding."
Three months later, it appears that CityLab isn't the only opponent of the law, as Roberts spotted a number of violators. (I must admit to a bit of San Francisco bias when I snickered at the woman who claimed ignorance of the statewide law because she was from LA!)
According to ABC 7, California is one of one of 13 states that restrict earplugs, headphones, or earbuds for cyclists and drivers, with four states enacting a full ban on their use. Want to know more? AAA has a full, state-by-state list of headset laws here.