Although many people equate distracted driving with texting while driving, there are many forms of distractions that can affect drivers. As a driver you have a responsibility to give driving the attention it deserves so you can keep yourself and others safe on the road.
While minimizing distractions is key, questions still arise. Is playing music on the radio while driving okay, or is even that an unacceptable level of distraction? What about wearing headphones while driving? Is that legal? (Short answer: it depends.)
Here we’ll discuss the legality of and safety concerns with wearing headphones or earbuds while driving.
Why Headphones and Earbuds are Dangerous for Drivers
Being able to hear noises both inside and outside your vehicle is crucial for safe driving. Technically speaking, even listening to music or a podcast through your car’s stereo is distracting, because a portion of your attention is dedicated to noticing and thinking about what you’re listening to.
However, listening to music or talking on the phone using headphones or earbuds is generally more distracting because the headphones block out surrounding sounds and reduce situational awareness. You may not be able to hear a car honking at you, for example, or a pedestrian yelling at you to stop, which could lead to a car accident involving serious injuries.
Where is it Illegal to Wear Headphones While Driving?
As with many laws in the United States, the legality of wearing headphones while driving varies by state. Some states have laws explicitly banning the use of headsets, headphones, earbuds, and/or earplugs while driving. These states include:
- Arizona (only for school bus drivers and childcare providers)
- New York
- Rhode Island
These states’ laws have various exceptions, such as allowing an ear bud in one ear for hands-free navigational purposes. Local laws should be checked for the exact language. In most of the other states not listed, it is legal to wear headphones while driving.
Consequences of Wearing Headphones While Driving
For states that prohibit wearing headphones while operating a vehicle, legal consequences vary. It is not uncommon for these consequences to include fines and/or points on your driving record. But even in states where wearing headphones while driving is allowed, there can be other, weightier consequences.
If you cause a car accident due to wearing headphones while driving, in any at-fault car insurance state, you will be financially liable. This means you will have to pay for the victim’s medical bills, lost wages, property damage and other losses through your auto insurance coverage. You could also face criminal charges if you cause serious bodily injury or death.
Ultimately, the potential benefits of driving with headphones or earbuds are not worth the risks. You could get fined, be forced to pay higher insurance premiums, cause a car accident, or even seriously injure someone. It is far better to ensure you are driving safely, free of distractions, for your good and the good of others sharing the road.