It’s Legal (but Very Dangerous) to Wear Headphones While Driving in Most States in the U.S.

Driving while listening to music is a common practice for most drivers nationwide. Some drivers use earbuds, headsets, or headphones to take calls or listen to music while driving. This practice is a car safety risk because it distracts your focus on the road and restricts your ability to be aware of what’s going on around you.

However, while some states have enforced safety standards that make it unlawful to drive with headphones, it might be a big surprise for you to know that most states permit such behavior.

Is it illegal to use headphones while driving?

Countess Gunilla Bismarck listening to car radio with headphones in a sports car
Listening to car radio with headphones | Slim Aarons/Getty Images

Well, that depends on where you reside. Most driving laws are enforced at the state level, this one included.

In states like Maryland, California, Florida, Ohio, Georgia, Massachusetts, New York, Virginia, Washington, Arizona, Illinois, Alaska, Minnesota, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Louisiana, driving while wearing headphones or headsets is illegal. In these states, police officers are permitted to pull you over if they notice that you are driving with one or both headphones on.

However, hearing aids don’t count as headphones and are legal to wear while driving in any state.

Some states, such as Pennsylvania and Illinois, permit the use of headphones or non-hearing aid earpieces contingently. For instance, it is unlawful to use a pair of earbuds or headphones in Pennsylvania. However, you may wear a single-ear audio system like Bluetooth to enable you to make hands-free phone calls.

States such as Wisconsin and Iowa consider it legal to drive while using headphones. However, most of these states have a one-ear policy that governs how drivers conduct themselves while on the road, allowing you to wear an earbud or Bluetooth wireless headphones on one ear.

Checking your state’s policy on sites like Alternative Press will shed light on your state’s view on headphones while driving.

Driving with your ears plugged can be dangerous.

Even though your state may permit the use of headphones while driving, you should still consider it a dangerous practice. While some may argue that using headphones is similar to listening to music or taking phone calls through car speakers, that is not exactly true.

Listening to music or phone calling through the car speaker system does not overwhelm nearby sounds. On the other hand, plugging headphones into your ears cancels outside noise, hindering your awareness and taking your mind off the road.

For instance, it would be challenging to hear a siren if you have your headsets on and your music turned up, which means you could collide with or obstruct an emergency vehicle. You are also unlikely to hear an alarming honk from a nearby car, increasing the possibility of being involved in a car accident.

What to do if you get involved in an accident with a driver wearing headphones

If you are ever the victim of a car accident in which a fellow driver was using headphones, you have the right to sue the driver, although the extremity of the legal punishment will depend on the states’ policy.

In states like Maryland, where it is unlawful to use headsets while driving, a driver can be charged with reckless driving, regarded as illegal driving with ignorance of other people’s safety.

In jurisdictions where it is legal to use headphones while driving, any incident of an accident with headphones on mainly carries a negligent driving charge. Careless driving, a minor charge than reckless driving, is termed distracted driving, which could endanger others.

Despite the outcome of the court, getting into an accident that is judged as your fault can have lasting consequences. You may end up with points on your driver’s license, which could lead to suspension if you receive a certain number of points after a specified duration.

It is also worth noting that most insurance companies have the habit of increasing their premium for drivers involved in accidents, particularly if it comes out that you are required to compensate the other driver.

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