Can You Wear Earbuds While Driving? Is It Legal?

It's a safety hazard if you're planning to use earbuds while behind the wheel. In some states, it is legal to use earbuds while driving, but should you do it?

Are you wondering can you wear earbuds while driving? If yes, you’ve landed on the right page.

Earbuds have become an integral part of our lives. They’re small, portable, and last several weeks on a full charge.

Yet, the main question arises: is it legal to wear them while driving?

That’s what we’ll try to decode through this article.

In this article, I’ll give you a detailed answer to: Can you wear earbuds while driving?

Plus, a list of states where it’s legal and illegal to wear earbuds while driving, and a few exceptions.

Is it Legal to Wear Earbuds while Driving?

QUICK ANSWER

In some states like Arkansas, Delaware, and Idaho, wearing earbuds while driving is legal. On the other hand, states like California, Louisiana, and Ohio consider it illegal. Although in a few states like Colorado, Florida, and New York, it’s illegal to wear earbuds while driving. But you can wear one earbud during calls, navigation, and emergencies.

No matter what the rules are, I recommend not using earbuds while you’re driving. If you must take an important call or for navigation, consider wearing one earbud.

Otherwise, you can connect your smartphone to your car/truck’s built-in entertainment unit. It helps you listen to music from your smartphone, listen to navigation instructions, and attend calls.

Even though you have driving experience of over a decade, using earbuds momentarily takes your mind off driving. As you know, a small mistake while driving can cause a lifetime of regret.

Why You Shouldn’t Wear Earbuds While Driving

1. Reduced Surrounding Awareness

The NHTSA estimates that 42,795 people died in 2022 due to motor vehicle traffic crashes.

Majority of these accidents happen because of reduced awareness of the surrounding area.

It can be due to distractions caused by smartphones, wearing earbuds, drowsiness, and a few other things.

Apart from this, earbuds block the outside noise, reducing your surrounding’s awareness. It can make you impervious to critical sounds like car horns, sirens, and important roadside warnings.

2. Increased Distractions

Earbuds are the leading cause of increased distractions after smartphones.

using phone while driving a car

TWS earbuds come with numerous control features. In addition, listening to music and receiving calls increases distractions by a significant margin.

There’s a reason why the USA deems it illegal to use a phone while driving. Earbuds also do the same thing but much worse due to noise isolation features.

3. Potential Hearing Impairment

We don’t realize it, but we increase our earbud’s volume to drown out the ambient noise. Couple it with driving, and you have a recipe for disaster.

Listening to music on your earbuds at a higher volume than usual temporarily affects your hearing capabilities. Thus, you become less aware of your surroundings and road noise.

4. Legal Restrictions

As mentioned above, many states prohibit wearing earbuds and headphones while driving. I’ve listed them below.

Suppose you’re traveling from one state where it’s legal to wear earbuds to another where it’s illegal.

In that case, you could be easily pulled over for breaking the law. What’s worse, you won’t notice the police car’s siren or lights.

5. Reduced Reaction Time

The RoSPA (The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents) states that people wearing headphones have a slightly reduced reaction time compared to listening to music through dashboard speakers.

fatal car accident

It also states that people with headphones were 8% more prone to make steering mistakes, and reaction time was 1/3rd of a second higher while shifting gears.

It also notes that a delay of 0.3 seconds in reaction time while traveling at 46mph leads to an additional 6 meters of distance traveled, which could be fatal during emergencies. Similarly, at higher speeds, the delayed reaction time can lead to deadly accidents.

6. Reduced Awareness About Your Car

Your car offers you feedback through various noises and sounds it makes. It ranges from:

  • Tires sound on different surfaces
  • Engine noise during gear changes and at higher RPMs
  • Beeping of car sensors
  • Blind spot indicator
  • Lane departure indicator
  • Beeps after crossing certain speed limits

Wearing earbuds can potentially block all the above sounds, including several more like low oil, engine failure, and more.

It can hamper your driving performance and make you a threat to other drivers on the road.

U.S. States Law on Wearing Earbuds While Driving

The table below shows you an exhaustive list of U.S. States that deem it legal or illegal to use earbuds while driving.

In addition, it has a column for states that have exemptions:

LegalityU.S. States
LegalAlabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, 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
IllegalAlaska, California, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Ohio, Virginia, Washington
Illegal with Exemption (One Earbud for Calls or Navigation Purpose)Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island
Source: The Zebra

As you can see in the above table, it’s legal to use earbuds/headphones in more states than it is illegal. But, with what we’ve discussed earlier, I hope you’d go against it.

How to Safely Use Earbuds While Driving

If you need to use earbuds while driving – I’ve listed below how to do it without compromising safety.

1. Use One Earbud at a Time

The best way to use earbuds while driving is to use only one earbud at a time.

This way, it keeps the other ear open to surrounding noises. It is a much better alternative than using both earbuds simultaneously.

With TWS earbuds, you can use one earbud at a time for receiving calls.

2. Using at Low Volume

Suppose your TWS earbuds do not support one earbud calling. In that case, I highly recommend using your earbuds at lower volume, only for calls and not for music.

Once again, it’s not entirely safe doing the same, but much better than blasting your earbuds at a higher volume

3. Using Open Ear Earbuds

Open-ear earbuds are a new breed that sits on top of your ear canal and not inside it.

bose ultra open ear earbuds
Bose Ultra Open Earbuds

The primary purpose of these earbuds is for you to clearly understand your surroundings and listen to ambient noise much better.

Having said that, open ear earbuds are made for use during walking and jogging but are not ideal for driving.

4. Using Neckband Earbuds

By design, neckband earbuds wrap around your neck, and you can keep them dangling when they are not in use.

neckband earbuds to use with iPhone

This way, when you receive a call, you know precisely where your earbuds are and use one earbud to attend the call.

On the other hand, TWS earbuds require you to remove them from their charging case and correctly insert them in your ears. Likewise, wired earbuds can be a safety hazard while shifting gears or moving around your head.

When Should You Wear Earbuds While Driving

If you’ve read till here, you know I advise against wearing earbuds while driving.

However, there are certain times you need to wear the earbuds. I’ve listed below a few times when you can wear earbuds while driving, but do them at your own risk.

1. During Emergencies

Wikipedia states, “An emergency is an urgent, unexpected, and usually dangerous situation that poses an immediate risk to health, life, property, or environment and requires immediate action.”

Thus, if you’re stuck in a situation that requires immediate action, you could use earbuds while driving your car or truck.

However, no matter the situation, you must be highly aware of your surroundings before reaching for your earbuds. It’s because small neglect on the road can lead to life-threatening situations.

2. Required by Job

Specific jobs require you to always wear headsets; these include emergency vehicle operators, ambulance drivers, garbage collectors, delivery drivers, and more.

Thus, in the above cases, you must compulsorily wear headphones or earbuds at all times.

Instead of earbuds, your employer will provide you with a single-sided headset or in-ear headset.

3. At Stop Lights

If you receive a call that you must attend, consider making the call at a stop light.

Usually, a stop light stays on for 1-3 minutes, giving you ample time to make the call and speak briefly.

4. During Traffic Jams

Some traffic jams can seem to last forever.

If you’re at a standstill in a traffic jam, you can wear your earbuds to make the emergency call.

Note: People with hearing aids shouldn’t refrain from wearing them. Not wearing them can be a safety hazard to yourself, pedestrians, and other drivers.

Conclusion

I hope this article helped answer your question about wearing earbuds while driving.

Even though your state deems it legal to wear earbuds while driving, it’s still a safety hazard to you and the drivers around you.

No matter how many years of experience you have on the road, earbuds are distracting. Getting your eyes off the road for a fraction of a second could result in a life-threatening accident.

Yash Lizz
Yash Lizz
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