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Legality of Headphone Use While Driving in California

Posted on April 12, 2024 in Car Accidents

California has many laws in place to help ensure the safety of its roads and drivers. This includes laws restricting what a driver can do while driving. In an effort to reduce the number of car accidents caused by driver distraction, California has a law that prohibits drivers from wearing headphones while operating motor vehicles.

legality of headphone use while driving

Is it Legal to Wear Headphones While Driving in California?

 No, it is not legal to wear headphones while operating a motor vehicle (or bicycle) in the State of California. California Vehicle Code 27400 expressly prohibits this action. This law states, “A person operating a motor vehicle or bicycle may not wear a headset covering, earplugs in, or earphones covering, resting on, or inserted in, both ears.”

The law covers any type of headphones and applies no matter what the driver is listening to. Earplugs that block the driver’s hearing are also prohibited for use while operating motor vehicles. These laws and restrictions are in place to help ensure that a motor vehicle driver remains alert to changing road situations.

Exceptions to the Rule

California’s laws against headphone use while driving have some exceptions. The first is for drivers who are operating authorized emergency vehicles, such as ambulances or firetrucks. The second exception applies to anyone who is engaged in the operation of special construction equipment or machinery used in the maintenance of any highway.

The third exception listed in the statute is for a person engaged in the operation of refuse collection equipment who has to wear earplugs or a headset for safety reasons. The fourth allows drivers to wear earplugs or molds that are specifically designed to prevent harmful noise levels, as long as they are designed to not inhibit the driver’s ability to hear a siren or horn. 

Finally, anyone who uses a prosthetic device to aid with a hearing disability is permitted to do so while driving. Note that California’s headphone law only prohibits their use in both of a driver’s ears. If a driver is operating a motor vehicle with only one ear covered by a headphone or earplug, this is permitted by the language of the law.

The Dangers of Using Headphones While Driving

California has enacted headphone restriction laws for safety reasons. Headphones present a form of driver distraction. By blocking out external sounds, headphones can reduce a driver’s awareness. If drivers are unable to hear the noises of the road and vehicles surrounding them due to headphones or earplugs, they may miss important warning signs of a potential accident. They may not be able to hear a driver honking, for example, or a pedestrian shouting. 

In addition, using headphones to listen to something could be distracting mentally or cognitively for a driver. Listening to music, a video, an audiobook or a podcast through headphones could detract a driver’s attention from the road and driving task. This can result in the driver thinking about what he or she is hearing rather than the demands of driving, potentially resulting in delayed response times and increased risk of a car accident.

If you get involved in a car accident and believe the other driver is to blame due to headphones and an auditory distraction, contact a Los Angeles car accident lawyer at Rose, Klein & Marias LLP for assistance. We offer free case consultations.