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Illegal to Drive With Headphones?

By Alex Sirek | Last updated on

Driving while rocking out to your favorite tunes is perfectly legal when you're blasting your car stereo. But is it illegal to drive while using headphones or earbuds?

Using headphones or earbuds behind the wheel may seem safe on the surface -- after all, you're technically complying with all those "hands-free" laws that keep popping up in more states and local jurisdictions nationwide. Right?

It actually depends where you're driving. Since there's no federal guideline banning driving with headphones, it's all up to state laws. Some states specifically cite safety concerns in making it illegal to drive with headphones or earbuds -- while laws in other states are much more hands-off. Here's a brief summary of those driving laws.

Where Is Wearing Headphones Illegal?

In many states, wearing headphones while operating a motor vehicle is completely illegal in all circumstances. Those states are:

  • Alaska
  • California
  • Illinois
  • Louisiana
  • Maryland
  • Minnesota
  • Rhode Island
  • Virginia
  • Washington

In these states, driving with headphones in could even lead to criminal charges. It's possible to be charged with negligent driving or distracted driving if a police officer sees you wearing headphones.

Illegal, with exceptions

One state -- Arizona -- makes driving with headphones illegal only for school bus drivers and people who transport children for licensed child-care facilities, according to AAA.

Other states make it illegal to drive with headphones in general -- but provide exceptions, such as:

  • Using headphones or earpieces to take a phone call in one ear: This is allowed in Colorado, Florida, Georgia, and Pennsylvania.
  • Headphones or earbuds in one ear: In New York and Ohio, drivers can use headphones in one ear, regardless of whether they're making a phone call.
  • Headphones for navigational help: In Massachusetts, it is legal to use headphones while driving if the driver is only listening to a GPS.

If you're worried about being charged with a traffic violation or a crime, talk to a criminal defense attorney in your area who can answer questions and help protect your rights.

Thirty-two states and the District of Columbia have no laws against the use of headphones or earbuds while driving, according to AAA. Those states are:

  • Alabama
  • Arkansas
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • District of Columbia
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Maine
  • Michigan
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Oklahoma
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

The Dangers of Driving With Headphones

Even if it's perfectly legal to wear headphones and drive where you live, that doesn't mean it's safe. Simply wearing earphones and driving can easily make you a danger to other motorists and passengers.

In the states that restrict or ban driving with earbuds, it's possible to receive a negligent or distracted driving charge. This should signal to you how dangerous driving with headphones really is.

By limiting your hearing, it's possible to drive completely unaware of vital audio cues, such as horns honking, and the sirens of police officers and emergency vehicles. You're also much more likely to be distracted while behind the wheel.

Most important of all though, distracted and dangerous driving of any kind can lead to tragic car accidents. A whopping 15% of all traffic accidents are caused by distracted driving. Furthermore, 5.9% of drivers involved in fatal car accidents were engaging in distracted driving.

Legal or not, driving while using headphones, earbuds, or earpieces is never a good or safe idea. Just play it safe, and listen to the radio if you don't own a working aux cord.

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