Driving

Is it illegal to drive with headphones?

It depends where you live

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When you’re driving, paying attention to the road in front of you is the most important thing you can do. That said, in reality, people use their driving time to unwind and listen to the radio, to podcasts, audiobooks and even make phone calls. Some of these things are more distracting than others, but doing any of these things with headphones on can be especially problematic. In fact, it’s illegal in many states.

Let’s dive into a state-by-state look at the laws around driving with headphones or earbuds.

Where can you drive with headphones?

Driving with headphones is a relatively new issue, as headphones have become smaller and smaller and therefore easier to use while driving. But laws have quickly popped up to stop the use of headphones, as states have begun recognizing how dangerous it is. After all, by wearing headphones, you're eliminating a key sense that can help you observe and react to events happening on the road.

However, while some states are enacting bans against driving with headphones, not all states handle the issue the same. In fact, in 35 states, the practice is still entirely legal. Below is a table that outlines each state's law on wearing headphones while driving. Some states completely ban it, while others ban it with some exemptions.

 

Is it legal or illegal to drive with headphones?

Exemptions?

Alabama

Legal

n/a

Alaska

Illegal

No

Arizona 

Legal

n/a

Arkansas

Legal

n/a

California

Illegal

No

Colorado

Illegal

Yes - one earbud can be used for cell phone calls

Connecticut

Legal

n/a

Delaware

Legal

n/a

Florida

Illegal

Yes - one earbud can be used for cell phone calls

Georgia

Illegal

Yes - can be used for cell phone calls

Hawaii

Legal

Not applicable

Idaho

Legal

Not applicable

Illinois

Illegal

Yes - one earbud can be used 

Indiana

Legal

Not applicable

Iowa

Legal

Not applicable

Kansas

Legal

Not applicable

Kentucky

Legal

Not applicable

Louisiana

Illegal

No

Maine

Legal

Not applicable

Maryland

Illegal

No

Massachusetts

Illegal

Yes - can be used for navigation purposes, one earbud can also be used

Michigan

Legal

Not applicable

Minnesota

Illegal

No

Mississippi

Legal

Not applicable

Missouri

Legal

Not applicable

Montana

Legal

Not applicable

Nebraska

Legal

Not applicable

Nevada

Legal

Not applicable

New Hampshire

Legal

Not applicable

New Jersey

Legal

Not applicable

New Mexico

Legal

Not applicable

New York

Illegal

Yes - one earbud can be used 

North Carolina

Legal

Not applicable

North Dakota

Legal

Not applicable

Ohio

Illegal

No

Oklahoma

Legal

Not applicable

Oregon

Legal

Not applicable

Pennsylvania

Illegal

Yes - one earbud can be used for cell phone calls

Rhode Island

Illegal

Yes - one earbud can be used for cell phone calls

South Carolina

Legal

Not applicable

South Dakota

Legal

Not applicable

Tennessee

Legal

Not applicable

Texas

Legal

Not applicable

Utah

Legal

Not applicable

Vermont

Legal

Not applicable

Virginia

Illegal

No

Washington

Illegal

No

West Virginia

Legal

Not applicable

Wisconsin

Legal

Not applicable

Wyoming

Legal

Not applicable

 


Why wearing headphones isn’t safe

ambulance

The reason headphones have been banned in a handful of states is because they can contribute to dangerous driving. It can seem like small little earbuds shouldn’t affect your driving, after all, you can still see just fine. That’s not the case though. Here are a few reasons driving with headphones is an unsafe practice. 

You can’t hear emergency vehicles

First and foremost, when you’re driving, if you have headphones on, your hearing is impaired significantly. That means you’ll likely have a hard time hearing emergency vehicles, and you could make it difficult for them to pass.  

It’s a distraction

Distracted driving is a serious matter. Over 3,000 people are killed in distracted driving incidents each year. At times, driving with headphones can be a cause of distracted driving. Your mind is not fully focused on the road, which can cause you to miss red lights, strike pedestrians or swerve into other lanes, among other things.  

Even if you’re not completely aware of it, listening for traffic is important when driving along sharp curves, stopping for trains and switching lanes. Not having this sense available to you isn’t helping you stay safe. That’s why it’s also recommended that your car radio not be up too high when you’re driving.


When you could consider wearing them

driving headphones

Despite the dangers, there are some exceptions where it might be appropriate to wear headphones, depending on the legality of these exceptions in your home state (see table above).

If you’re using one earbud for a call

If you do need to take a call while driving, wearing a single earbud so you can take the call hands-free is better than picking up your phone. While it’s still not recommended, if you’re going to do it, it’s better to do it in a slightly safer manner. 

Many states do allow you to drive with just one earbud in, but know that if an accident occurs, there’s still a chance you could be cited for distracted driving. 

If you’re hearing impaired

Hearing aids and any device that helps the hearing impaired are not considered headphones or earpieces, so the wearer shouldn’t be concerned about being fined if an accident occurs. 

When you’re job requires it

Construction workers, garbage collectors and emergency vehicle operators often use headsets to communicate with each other in loud situations. They’re often exempt from the headphone rule since their equipment is helping them do their jobs properly.


The consequences of driving with headphones

In states where it’s illegal to drive with headphones, you could face fines if you’re caught driving with them in, which could also result in higher insurance premiums. The fine you pay will vary by state since each has its own law.

In Texas, for example, you could get a $200 ticket for dangerous driving if you violate driving laws while wearing headphones. You could potentially get jail time depending on the severity of the incident. 

Another example is Maryland. Maryland follows the contributory fault standard for distracted driving cases that end in injury or accident. This means the victim will lose any compensation if they are found at fault, even if it’s only slightly. So, if you’re wearing headphones and someone else crashes into you, the fact that you were wearing headphones could hold you partially responsible for the crash. That could end in zero compensation for you. 

In Illinois, where it’s illegal to drive with headphones, you could face a $500 fine and be held responsible for paying any damages if you caused the accident. 


Expert opinions on driving with headphones

headphone man

The overarching opinion on driving with headphones is that it’s a bad idea and should be avoided, if possible. Most experts cite the obvious reasons it’s not a good idea.

In general, if wearing headphones distracts you in any way or makes it so you can’t hear your surroundings, it’s a bad idea to wear them.

"Whilst visual cues — keeping your eyes on the road — are of primary importance, there are plenty of audio cues that we should take note of while we're driving. Whether it's a distant police siren that signals a glance in the mirror or the rumble of an 18-wheeler in your blind spot, staying alert to every sense will keep you safe while driving."

- Robert Muñoz, founder of SensibleMotive, in BestLife

“Wearing earbuds or headphones, while driving could intensify your sensory deprivation and cognitive distraction level, potentially creating additional dangers on our roadways.”

-Cindy Antrican, Public Affairs Manager for AAA

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