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Illegal to Drive With Headphones?

By Andrew Chow, Esq. on June 12, 2012 9:43 AM

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

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

Well, it depends where you're driving. 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 laws:

Most states: No prohibition

Thirty-two states and the District of Columbia have no laws against the use of headphones or earbuds while driving, according to the American Automobile Association. These states are highlighted in green on this interactive map by AAA and the website Lifehacker.

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 earbuds in only one ear. This is allowed in California, New York, and Ohio, among other states.
  • Hearing aids. California, Florida, and Minnesota, for example, allow the use of devices that improve a driver's impaired hearing.
  • Headphones built-in to protective headgear. This generally applies to headphone-equipped motorcycle helmets, which are allowed in California, Illinois, and Louisiana, among other states.

There are some other exceptions -- such as for emergency responders, refuse collectors, and highway and construction workers. If you're worried about being charged with a violation or even a crime, consult a criminal defense attorney in your area who can answer questions and help protect your rights.

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