Ohio Motorcyclists Risk Hearing Loss But State Law Prohibits Most Types of Ear Protection

Ear Protection for Ohio MotorcyclistsAccording to Ohio Revised Code (ORC) 4511.84, a motorcyclist or operator of any motor vehicle in Ohio is prohibited from wearing “earphones over, or earplugs in, both ears.” “Earphones,” according to the statute, means “any headset, radio, tape player or other similar device that provides the listener with radio programs, music or other recorded information through a device attached to the head and that covers all or a portion of both ears.”

This regulation does not apply to the hearing impaired; law enforcement, fire department or EMS personnel; persons engaged in the operation of equipment for maintenance and repair of highways and those performing refuse collection. It also does not include speakers or other devices built in to protective headgear.

Is Wearing in One Ear Ok?

Ohio law does not specify if it is acceptable to wear one headphone, or earplug, in one ear, but since wearing devices in “both ears” is mentioned twice prohibitively in the statute language, it could be assumed it is probably legal to use a device in one ear in Ohio as it is in some other states.

States, such as Maryland, permit the wearing of custom-molded ear devices and, in Texas, it is permissible for all drivers to wear headphones.

Some riders in Ohio have questioned why earphones, earplugs and other devices are banned by state law and yet the Ohio Department of Public Safety’s Motorcycle Operator Manual, which motorcyclists use to prepare for their licensing test, recommends that riders wear hearing protection to combat hearing loss. This loss is caused not by road noise (the sound of a loud motorcycle or other vehicles on the highway as many believe) but by ambient wind noise which can be very intense while riding on a motorcycle and can cause permanent hearing damage.

Some call it “a silent killer” as irreparable damage can occur before the rider is cognizant of the permanent hearing loss.

Earplugs Don’t Block All Sound

In fact, many motorcyclists contend it is a myth that a rider has increased difficulty hearing traffic noises, sirens and other important sounds while wearing earplugs. High Frequency Hearing Loss (HFHL) is caused by exposure to ambient wind noise at high decibels (100 to 130dB) as the rider rushes through the air at highway speeds. As wind noise beats on the motorcyclist’s ears non-stop, it creates a condition known as temporary threshold shift (TTS), a temporary hearing loss in which the motorcyclist goes partially deaf for a while after an extended period of riding.

Even at speeds as low as 35 miles per hour, the noise from the wind on a motorcycle can be greater than 85dB. The National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders reports 26 million Americans have HFHL as a result of exposure to loud sounds.

This temporary deafness affects all frequencies of hearing. Proper hearing protection cuts high-frequency wind noise while still allowing important low-frequency sounds, such as approaching sirens, to be heard. Therefore, one may actually hear those sounds more clearly when wearing ear protection. Experts say the best way for motorcyclists to protect hearing is by wearing earplugs that typically drop noise levels by 30dB or more.

Some may think it is the loudness of a bike that creates problems with ear damage, but the sound of a bike is miniscule compared to the volume of wind noise and the constant high-frequency sound that is slowly beating on the rider’s eardrums. Some claim helmets are beneficial in diminishing noise levels, but even some helmet manufacturers recommend wearing earplugs in addition to headgear.

Some riders contend wearing a full-face helmet cuts exposure to sound by directing wind over the rider’s head rather than around it. BikeBandit.com, a website that sells motorcycle parts and other gear, claims the degree of sound reduction provided by such helmets is not significant with respect to hearing damage. BikeBandit commentators also note that special motorcycle windshields, air deflectors or helmet “skirts” do not reduce sound from wind noise on a motorcycle to a measureable degree although they may change the wind flow from upward to downward, reduce the amount of wind blowing toward the rider’s face, and protect riders from insects.

BikeBandit also pointed out that ear plug wearers experience less fatigue after riding due to a reduction in “noise fatigue,” a condition of exhaustion which can be painful and can result from sustained exposure to high levels of noise.

Normal Highway Driving Can Cause Hearing Damage in 15 Minutes

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), a federal agency which is part of the U.S. Department of Labor, studied decibel exposure while riding a motorcycle and found up to 85-90dB a day for 8 hours is within hearing safety limits. This occurs while traveling at speeds of under 40mph in normal to heavy traffic.

At speeds of 65mph or more, wind noise goes past 90dB and increases dramatically. Safe exposure time drops to two hours and, at 115dB, safe exposure time before permanent ear damage is possible is reduced to only 15 minutes. Additionally, the damage may be irreparable. In other words, the OSHA study found that a motorcyclist can do more damage to his or her ears cruising down an empty highway at the highway speed limit than traveling through a crowded city at a slower speed with heavy traffic all around him.

Help for Ohio Motorcyclists

If you have been involved in a motorcycle accident anywhere in Ohio, please contact us for a free and private consultation to understand your legal rights and options.

Our free consultations are just that – free. There are no costs whatsoever and there are no obligations to hire our law firm. Free consultation are a service we offer and provide people every day.

We make ourselves available at all times by calling 1-888-534-4850, chatting with one of our 24-hour live chat representatives or sending us a website message.

Ohio Motorcyclists Risk Hearing Loss But State Law Prohibits Most Types of Ear Protection
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Ohio Motorcyclists Risk Hearing Loss But State Law Prohibits Most Types of Ear Protection
Ohio motorcyclists risk hearing loss from riding a motorcycle but Ohio law prohibits most types of ear protection. Learn more about the law and this issue.
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Slater & Zurz
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