Do you hear what I hear?

As we ride into 2019 looking forward to new adventures and roads to travel, keep safe riding on your list of New Year’s resolutions.  Let’s start our new year with personal safety and review our safety gear.  If you ask any rider what his or her safety gear consists of, you’re likely to hear something like helmet, gloves, jacket, boots, glasses and pants.  That covers all the areas we want to protect, right?   Well, almost.  

Hearing protection should be a part of your safety gear. Take a minute to think about all your riding buddies and how many of them (including yourself) wear any type of hearing protection.  How many could you think of?  Most motorcyclists consider a full-face helmet to constitute hearing protection.  If you wear a full-face helmet, then you are aware that wind noise is always there, even with a windshield.  Sound is measured in a unit known as a decibel and the higher the decibel level, the louder the noise.  If you are riding at 40 mph, wind noise reaching your ears can be 90 decibels.  So, as your speed increases so does the decibel level as wind noise increases.  Research suggests that our safe exposure limit is about 85 decibels for a 6 to 8 hour period.  Wind noise at higher speeds can reach approximately 110 decibels and this exposure can lead to permanent hearing damage in only an hour.  The MSF tells us that wearing hearing protection, like foam earplugs, can reduce noise by 33 decibels. These inexpensive foam earplugs can make your ride quieter and more enjoyable.  

You’re probably thinking to yourself, “Can I hear the important sounds like car horns, traffic and sirens when wearing ear plugs?”  The answer is yes.  Earplugs will reduce the overall level of sounds.  MSF further mentions “ … the overall level of all sounds, the signal-to-noise ratio is virtually unaffected, and is actually improved at higher speed since earplugs reduce contact background noise. This allows transient signals such as those from horns and sirens to stand out.”   We acknowledge that wind noise can cause hearing damage, what you may not associate with wind noise is that it will also make you tired quicker.  

A tired rider becomes a distracted rider.  Distracted riders are not riding at their safest potential.  There are benefits to wearing earplugs.  But, not all states recognize this.  States that prohibit wearing ear protection are Ohio, Alaska and Virginia.  Some states prohibit wearing earphones that play music.  So, it is important for you to check the laws of your state.  According to AAA’s driving laws, in the state of Tennessee, there is no prohibition to wearing ear buds while driving.  Before you take off on a ride with your ear buds playing your favorite tunes, be aware that in some towns and cities, they do have ordinances in place to ban wearing ear buds, like Bartlett, TN.  In others, wearing only one ear bud is permitted.  This leaves us with a fuzzy gray area depending on where you are and leaves riders at the discretion of law enforcement.  As far as earplugs, with no music involved, you are fine to wear these anywhere in the state of Tennessee.  

Give earplugs a try for a couple of rides and decide for yourself.  A quick search on the Internet will provide you with variety of earplug options. You will find several vendors selling motorcycle specific earplugs with varying levels of filters.  You may need to try a few different pairs for fit and comfort. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation and the American Motorcyclist Association recommend that motorcyclists wear hearing protection while being considerate of state laws.   Safe riding starts with you!  

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