Motorcyclists can wear earplugs under bill passed in Ohio House

Motorcycle riders would have the option of wearing earplugs to protect their hearing under a bill approved Wednesday by the Ohio House.

Current law prohibits motorcycle operators or vehicle drivers from wearing earphones or earplugs in both ears. But motorcyclists complain that wind and road noise can damage their hearing over the long haul.

State Rep. Riordan McClain, R-Upper Sandusky, sponsor of the bill, said in written testimony that the legislation would allow riders a choice about whether to wear earplugs to protect their hearing. “House bill 548 is about freedom. Freedom involves choices and this is precisely what this bill allows,” he said.

House Bill 548, which received a 89-0 vote, now moves to the Ohio Senate for consideration.

Ohio is among 31 states that do not require adult motorcycle riders to wear helmets. Some helmets have built-in hearing protection. Passengers under 18 are required to wear helmets.

In 2014, the 6th District Court of Appeals ruled against motorcyclist Thomas Varsel, who challenged the constitutionality of Ohio’s ban on wearing earplugs. Varsel, who had worked as a noise vibration technologist for Ford Motor Co., got a ticket from the Ohio Highway Patrol for wearing foam earplugs while riding his motorcycle in Fulton County.

An expert witness in the case testified that riding at 45 miles per hour creates a decibel level of 115 — a level comparable to a jackhammer — and at 65 mph the decibel level rises to 130, roughly the same as a jet engine.

The court found Varsel guilty and that no constitutional violation occurred.

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