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Is it Illegal to Drive with Headphones? What You Should Know

man driving car wearing headphones

With the advent of wireless technology, cellular phones, and global positioning systems (GPS), it is easier than ever to engage in distracted or dangerous driving. This technology raises the question, “Is it illegal to drive with headphones?” The legality of driving with headphones or talking on the phone depends on state law.

States have taken different approaches to this question. You can think of it as the Goldilocks approach: completely illegal, completely legal, and illegal with legal exceptions.

A group of 17 states passed driving laws making it illegal to operate a motor vehicle while wearing headphones. Next, there is a group of 32 states, along with the District of Columbia, where it is legal to wear headphones or earbuds while driving. Finally, there is a group of six states where driving with headphones is illegal, but legal exceptions apply.

Which States in the US Make Driving with Headphones Illegal?

States are constantly enacting new laws concerning distracted driving. As of mid-2021, state law in ten states made it illegal to wear headphones while driving. These ten states include:

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

Where Is It Legal to Wear Headphones While Driving?

In 33 other states, along with the District of Columbia, it is legal to wear headphones or earbuds while driving, including cell phone calls with a hands-free phone device.

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

Which States Make Wearing Headphones While Driving Illegal with Exceptions?

red clerical needle on map of usa pointing at colorado

In six states, it is illegal to wear headphones or any listening device while driving, but with a few exceptions. These states are:

  • Colorado
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Massachusetts
  • New York
  • Pennsylvania

In Massachusetts, it is legal to wear headphones while driving for navigational purposes from a GPS device. Otherwise, it is illegal.

In one state, Arizona, headphones, earbuds, or any listening device is legal but with exceptions. Specifically, driving with headphones is not legal in Arizona for school bus drivers or when transporting children for a licensed child-care operation.

Also, all states exclude hearing aids and hearing devices, including any device that helps the driver hear, from the definition of headphones. Wearing hearing aid devices is never a violation of these laws and is legal in every state.

Is it legal to drive with headphones? This is an important question, but it is not the only question in a personal injury case. If you sustained an injury from a distracted driver wearing headphones, contact Sadaka Law today for a free consultation. Our experienced distracted driver lawyers will answer your questions.

Is It Okay to Drive with Headphones If You’re Only Using One Ear?

man using one wireless earphones while driving

Five states made it legal for drivers to wear headphones or earbuds in a single ear with some additional requirements. These five states include the following:

  • Colorado
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • New York
  • Pennsylvania

In these five states, wearing headphones while driving remains against the law, but the following exceptions apply. It is legal to use an earpiece in one ear to make cell phone calls in Colorado, Florida, Georgia, and Pennsylvania. In New York, it is legal to use headphones in one ear while driving.

Why Do Headphones Cause Dangerous Driving?

The fact that it is legal in most states to wear headphones while driving a motor vehicle does not make it a good idea. In 2021, Ford conducted a study to determine the effect on drivers’ performance while wearing headphones and demonstrated that it is a dangerous practice.

The study found that people driving with music playing in their headphones had diminished hearing and reacted 4.2 seconds slower to audio and visual cues, such as an emergency vehicle.

After the study, 44% of the 2,000 participants stated they would no longer wear headphones while driving.

Dangers of Driving with Headphones

Driving with headphones leads to dangerous driving and falls under the category of distracted driving. Distracted driving includes activities that divert the driver’s attention from the road, resulting in dangerous driving. Even talking on the phone with headphones and a hands-free device can make staying alert and checking your blind spots more challenging.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • Nine people are killed each day by distracted drivers
  • Distracted drivers killed 3,100 and injured 424,000 people in 2019
  • 20% of fatalities involving distracted drivers included pedestrians

The specific dangers of wearing headphones while driving include the following:

  • Reaction times are 4.2 seconds slower with headphones
  • Difficult to hear emergency vehicles
  • Difficult to hear car horns.

The research is clear: wearing earbuds or blasting the car stereo while driving is a bad idea, whether it is legal or not. If you suffered an injury from a distracted driver wearing headphones, talk to a personal injury attorney at Sadaka Law.

Penalties You Can Get in States Where Driving with Headphones is Illegal

car key one hundred dollar bills and judge gavel

As the legality of wearing headphones while driving varies by state, so will the repercussions in the many states with laws prohibiting them. Generally, you will be subject to some of the following penalties if a police officer catches you driving with headphones in a state where it is illegal to wear headphones:

  • Tickets, citations, and fines
  • Increased insurance premiums
  • Criminal charges
  • Higher penalties for failing to obey traffic signs
  • Assigned fault in an accident and lose the ability to seek compensation

In Illinois, where state laws make it illegal to drive with headphones, violations result in a $500 fine.

In Maryland, if you wear headphones and are involved in an accident, you may not recover compensation, including medical bills.

In Texas, where it is legal to drive wearing headphones, you face a $200 fine and possible jail time if police officers observe you violating driving laws while doing so.

What to Do If You’re Involved in an Accident with a Driver Who Was Wearing Headphones?

If the other driver used headphones during the car accident, that could help your personal injury claim by demonstrating that they were operating the vehicle negligently.

If you are involved in an accident with a driver wearing headphones, take the following steps:

  • Seek medical care if needed
  • Photograph the scene, including the headphones
  • Exchange information with other drivers and witnesses
  • Take statements from any witnesses
  • Do not admit fault or state that you are uninjured
  • Notify your insurance

Next, contact a personal injury attorney to discuss your car accident. Sadaka Law has a combined 30 years of experience helping injured clients and has recovered over $100 million on their behalf.

We can help you answer the question, “is it illegal to drive with headphones?” and represent you whether you were driving in New York, New Jersey, or other states. Call our firm today at 201-266-5670 to discuss your case with a car accident attorney.



Principal & Founder
This article was written by Mark Sadaka, a seasoned trial lawyer in nationally significant cases. He fearlessly champions clients impacted by fatal or severe injuries caused by others or corporations. Renowned for his expertise in complex litigation, he's featured in books, sought after by media for interviews, and a highly sought speaker. Notably, he exclusively represents individuals facing life-changing injuries or substantial financial losses.

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