At the ABR Festival, our van was next to the Ultimate Ears team who were doing a roaring trade in custom made earplugs which gave you the option to listen to music as well as to protect your ears.

I was asked this question: is it legal to have music playing in your helmet or to block off the sound of your environment? The answer, put simply, is that in UK law and most of Europe, this is legal, but not Spain where it is illegal to have any sound playing in your helmet whilst riding a motorcycle.

I was also asked if Apple Air Pods are lawful to wear in a helmet and the short answer is yes. But what about if he has music blasting so he is potentially distracted? The answer is such a tentative yes, that it is really a no. If your riding falls below the standards of a reasonably competent rider, whatever the cause, then it can be either negligent, if you cause a collision, or contributorily negligent if you get caught up in someone else ‘s accident.

In my own experience, using headphones while listening to a language learning course, I was concentrating on a form of words in Italian and rode straight over a give way line on a route I had ridden hundreds of times. That was negligent of me. Luckily the road was empty and my lesson was learnt: don’t try to learn Italian on a motorcycle. However, my negligence was not listening to audio, it was failing to concentrate on my primary duty, namely riding a motorcycle with a decent level of concentration.

What I do see, however, having read thousands of motorcyclists’ medical records, is that many high mileage riders, commuters, couriers and people who have worked in noisy environments suffer from noise induced hearing loss and trauma accelerated tinnitus.

A lot of my clients have had a clout on their helmets in an accident and have developed trauma induced tinnitus, but usually there was quite a lot of pre-existing hearing damage already done.

I encourage my colleagues and friends to ride with ear plugs if no music is wanted, and ideally custom made plugs (I have had five sets from Ultimate Ears) or similar if music or SatNav directions are wanted. What is really not a good idea is to have very loud music from regular headphones competing with the noise generated by riding a motorcycle.

In contrast, custom made plugs push a modest volume of clear audio into your ears, which are effectively protected by the sound deadening properties of the rest of the ear plug from road noise. On a purely practical level, the custom fit plugs stay in your ears when a helmet goes on and do not pressure your ears, protecting your hearing which you’ll be grateful for in years to come.

Andrew Dalton

Adventure Bike Rider – July / August 2023