Legal to drive with headphones?

I’ve been debating this with some friends and, despite research, have yet to find a straight answer.

Is it legal to drive while wearing headphones (listening to an iPod, etc.)?

I did this on a long drive today because the kids were watching a DVD and we had forgotten their earphones. I took my ear buds out when I saw a police car approaching because I figured it is illegal. I’ll be interested to see the replies.

The California Vehicle Code says it cannot cover both ears, but doesn’t explicitly prohibit using a mono headset. Incidentally, as of next year cell phone handset use while driving will be illegal, and while the CVC doesn’t mention headsets I have routinely seen them suggested as an alternative. So I’m guessing it’s legal in one ear only.

I could swear I used to have a handy chart on headset legality by state, but damned if I can find it. Naturally IANAL and you should see what the law is in your jurisdiction.

IIRC, in California, it is illegal if you’re using both ears. Listening in one ear is ok, but both is not. Also, I hear it applies to bicyclists as well; I’ve heard of students at UC Davis getting cited for not leaving one ear free.

It is illegal in New Zealand.


I didn’t get a ticket, but I got yelled at by their Car Bullhorn.

When I trained to ride a motorcycle in the UK (Direct Access) I had to be in radio contact with my instructor at all times when on a 500cc machine. So I guess that must be legal.

I was told the police took a dim view of people using headphones on, say, an MP3 player while riding, but plenty of riders use earplugs and they didn’t seem to care about that.

It’s going to depend on your state’s law. It’s illegal in many places.

Got pulled over for this last weekend. The Cop told me that I could not have both ears covered, so if I wanted to keep listening to my Ipod I could but I would only be able to keep the right one in. (He said that I could keep either one in but if I left my left ear open other officers could tell right away I didn’t have both in.)

This was in Illinois so YMMV.

Concerning earplugs, again in California :

earplugs OK. Your iPod No.

Illegal to cover both ears in PA.

This is one of those legal questions which are, in reality meaningless as the answer varies State by State, Nation by Nation, and in some areas, County by County.
And the OP left his location blank. :rolleyes:

So I can answer- with a 100% chance of being correct:

I know in NY bikers at least have to keep one ear uncovered.

Metafilter thread on US state laws about headphones and driving.

I remember when they made driving with headphones on illegal in Maryland in the 80s (AFAIK, it’s still illegal there).

It’s not illegal to drive if you are deaf, so what would be the advantage of making it illegal to drive with headphones on?

No compelling public interest in hearing people being able to drive without hearing ability. Quite easy to avoid driving deaf if you can hear normally; just don’t wear the headset.
A compelling public interest is present for deaf people being able to drive. To legislate otherwise creates a substantial hardship.
All kinds of laws like that if you think hard enough.

It’s not illegal in Wyoming, thank goodness, because at least twice a week I drive to work with headphones on. (Approximately 40 miles).

The punchline. . .
Wait for it . . .
The job I’m traveling to is as a prosecutor who often prosecutes traffic cases (though it isn’t my main gig).

I’ve always heard that when you lose one of your senses, the others get stronger. In the case of the hearing impaired, the driver is (in theory at least) more visually alert to his/her surroundings, whereas the earphones are more of a distraction.

In related news, seems like mythbusters proved a while back that being on the phone while driving was actually more dangerous than being intoxicated.

Wow, interesting. I had no idea this might be illegal. I’ve been listening to my MP3 player when I drive for about two years now.

On the other hand, I use the open-ear kind of headphones, like this:
I tested, and with these in but the volume turned off, I still hear outside noises just the same. I can’t see how this is any different from listening to the radio.

In fact, I’ve taken several long drives (> 10 hours) with them, and I think I am much safer, because I stay alert listening to interesting podcasts.

So unless a police officer tells me not to, I’ll just keep right on, thank you very much…

FWIW: My deaf former girlfriend had a license restriction that required her to have side mirrors on her car. This was in LA (Lower Alabama).

Driving with headphones is illegal in Colorado. I remember that from my recent debacle concerning reinstating my license.