By Megan Hottman, TheCyclist-Lawyer.com
Bicycle Colorado’s Ride Time News recently featured a “Bike Law Q&A,” which discussed the legality of wearing earphones while riding your bike. See article
I personally agree with the author’s statement “while Colorado Law prohibits the operator of a motor vehicle from wearing earphones while driving, the law does not apply to bicyclists. That’s because the statute specifically refers to ‘motor vehicle’ rather than ‘vehicle.’”
However based on a recent experience I had in Denver Traffic Court, I now realize that City Attorneys and Judges see it differently…
Colorado law prohibits the operator of a motor vehicle from wearing earphones while driving:
§ 42-4-1411. Use of earphones while driving
(1)(a) No person shall operate a motor vehicle while wearing earphones.
Well what exactly is a “motor vehicle,” and is a cyclist within that definition?
As used in articles 1 to 4 of this title, unless the context otherwise requires:
Cyclists should therefore be considered vehicles, moved solely by human power, but not “motor vehicles.”
It would seem to follow then, that a cyclist could not be cited or charged pursuant to section CRS 42-4-1411 for wearing earphones under Colorado statute, because a cyclist is not a motor vehicle and the statute only addresses motor vehicles ….
A few months ago, I had the opportunity to make this very argument in Denver Traffic Court. The City Attorney filed a motion to add additional charges, one of which was the charge for wearing earphones.
At our motions hearing, I argued that this citation could not apply to a cyclist because he is not a “motor vehicle.” If the Colorado Legislature had intended CRS 42-4-1411 to encompass cyclists, low-power scooters or similar, it would have used “vehicle” instead of “motor vehicle.”
The Denver City Attorney’s position was that CRS 42-4-1412(1) trumped the definition of “motor vehicle” in CRS 41-1-102, making it illegal for cyclists to wear earphones.
CRS 42-4-1412(1) states:
To illustrate, I include excerpts from the transcript of our hearing:
THE COURT: Okay. Thank you. Any response?
CITY ATTORNEY: Your Honor, if I may respond. As to the headphones charge, Your Honor, I understand the Defense’s argument that it only applies to motor vehicles. That argument, same argument can be made for all the statutes under the motor vehicle code. The Legislature has seen fit to add 42-4-1412 for that specific purpose of saying bicycles are to be treated exactly as cars for this section. That is the purpose of adding those. And although it states motor vehicles under the use of earphones while driving, 42-4-1411, it still applies. It is still under the sub-—under the section of bicycles being applied to cars.
The Traffic Court Judge subsequently allowed the addition of the earphone charge.
Based on these inconsistencies in interpretation among city attorneys, private attorneys, and judges, Colorado cyclists should be prepared to face legal repercussions if they choose to wear earphones while riding.