Yesterday, the Active Transportation Alliance, a Chicago based bicycle advocacy group, started an informal online discussion regarding the legality of riding a bicycle while wearing music headphones. While I do not wear headphones while cycling, I realized I was not quite sure myself what the law actually was. I knew it was illegal to wear them while operating a motor vehicle (625 ILCS 5/12-610). I recalled that it was illegal to bike with headphones somewhere. But, what about here? As it turns out, neither the Illinois Motor Vehicle Code nor Chicago Ordinance prohibit wearing headphones while bicycling. (I do not know of any other local municipalities in the state that prohibit them either, though I have not searched every local ordinance.)
One might argue that if drivers are prohibited from wearing headphones, bicyclists are too. Afterall the Vehicle Code states that, "Every person riding a bicycle upon a highway shall. . . be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle." (625 ILCS 5/1502) True enough. However, the state statute dealing with headphones (the law refers to them as "headset receivers") is quite specific. It states that, "No driver of a motor vehicle on the highways of this State shall wear headset receivers while driving." Under the law, a bicycle is not a motor vehicle. Therefore, the prohibition of headphone use does not apply to bicyclists.
So you may legally listen to your iPod while riding your bike in Chicago. The law says nothing about wearing a blindfold while cycling in the city either. Right; not a good idea. There are so many things the urban bicyclist must be attuned to while riding in the city: Trucks, cars, buses, potholes, pedestrians, lights, signs, little dogs, the weather, etc. I think it is crazy to diminish one of your senses while navigating a bicycle through this gauntlet of hazards and distractions. By plugging your ears and pouring music into your fully occupied brain while biking you are just asking to get into an accident. Just leave the iPod at home. Or, better yet, if you really must have music, sing while you ride. Maybe then the pedestrians with their little dogs will hear you coming.