Riding with headphones – illegal, immoral or irrelevant?

I’ve had three incidents in the past month that have got me thinking about my bike riding etiquette. Twice in the past couple months friends have stopped me as I took headphones out of my ears to tut-tut me on riding while listening to music. This afternoon, on my way home from a doctors appointment, a self-identified off-duty RCMP officer instructed me (to her credit, in a kindly way) that riding with headphone on was illegal and she had pulled over dozens of people for impaired riding.

The bike shop guys I asked later in the day confirmed it was a contravention of the BC Motor Vehicle Act. Unfortunately, my legal prowess is limited and after a quick search of the Act, I wasn’t able to discover any evidence to confirm this is the case. Though I’ve yet to find the precise legal wording one thing I have found is that in all my time riding, I’ve never run into troubles with a police officer for riding with headphones (despite being pulled over several times for other infractions). What’s most striking is that if it is actually a law, it’s one of the most ignored ones in history. Sitting at the Union St Cafe at the corner of Union and Hawkes, it’s hard to find a cyclist (particularly during the morning commute) who isn’t listening to tunes on a small portable i-phone or music player.  For me it begs the question of the relevance of such a rule. Is this another road rule that everyone (including the cops ignores) or is it something we all really should be paying attention to?

Fun tech friend or public enemy #1?

On the one hand, I understand how listening to music at a moderate volume can a) distract you from your environment and b) take away from your peripheral hearing. But is that really so different from the car radio (particularly at a high volume)? If you’re hands free and you are alert and listening to a music at a low volume, is this really so bad? And if this is the case, what about joggers? Should they not be held to the same standard?

What is most frustrating about this issue is that this prohibition isn’t really clear to cyclists (or anyone for that matter). It’s hard to find evidence one way or another on the ICBC website and there certainly seems to be a gap in public education around all matters of proper riding ediquette (apparently it’s also illegal to ride without a bell – really!?). In any event, if the rule isn’t being enforced, is it really a good rule to have? Practice seems to be very different from principle on this issue.