Is It Illegal to Wear Headphones While Driving in California?

Car Accidents | March 15, 2021

It is your responsibility as a driver to pay attention to the driving task while operating a motor vehicle in California. Paying attention means more than just keeping your eyes on the road – it also means keeping your other senses attuned to driving, including your hearing. It is important to consider the potential ramifications of using headphones while driving, no matter what state you are in.

California’s Headset Laws for Driving and Biking

California has a law that prohibits drivers and bicyclists from wearing headphones while operating their vehicles. California Vehicle Code 27400 states that no person operating a motor vehicle or bicycle may wear earphones, earplugs or a headset that covers, rests in or is inserted in both ears. The exceptions to this rule are:

  • Drivers authorized to operate emergency vehicles
  • Someone engaged in the use of special highway maintenance or construction equipment
  • Someone wearing safety earplugs in the operation of refuse collection
  • Someone wearing personal hearing protectors that are specifically designed to reduce noise levels, as long as they do not inhibit the person’s ability to hear a horn or siren
  • Someone who is hard of hearing using a prosthetic hearing device

According to state law, a driver or bicyclist can only wear a headset or headphones while operating a motor vehicle if only one ear is covered by a headphone. Having both ears covered by headphones or earplugs is against the law in California.

man wearing headphones standing on the sidewalk | text: headphones and driving shouldn't mix

Why Headphones and Earbuds Are Dangerous for Drivers

As a driver, you must be able to hear the noises of the road around you. Dedicating 100 percent of your attention to the driving task means listening to your surroundings. This is not possible if you use headphones to talk on the phone, listen to music or listen to a podcast while driving. Listening to headphones will also distract you on a cognitive level, as you will be thinking about what you are listening to instead of the driving task.

Using headphones and earbuds while driving is dangerous because it effectively blocks out surrounding sounds. You may not be able to hear a car honking at you, for example, or a pedestrian shouting at you to hit the brakes. This could lead to a car accident and serious injuries. You also might not hear emergency sirens, leading to mistakes such as failing to pull over for an ambulance or police officer.

Consequences of Wearing Headphones While Driving

If you get caught violating California’s headphones while driving law, the penalty is a fine of $197.00. You will also receive one point on your driving record. If you accumulate too many points in a certain amount of time, the Department of Motor Vehicles may suspend your license for negligent vehicle operation. The limit for license suspension in California is 4 points in 12 months, 6 points in 24 months or 8 points in 36 months. If you miss your court date, you could face additional fines and penalties, including a misdemeanor charge for failure to appear.

There are also civil consequences of wearing headphones while driving if you cause a car accident. If your failure to dedicate 100 percent of your attention to the road causes or contributes to an automobile accident in California, you will be financially responsible for the victim’s injuries and losses. This means you will have to pay for the victim’s medical bills, lost wages, property damage and other losses through your auto insurance coverage. You could also face criminal charges if you cause serious bodily injury or death.

Injured? Contact an LA Car Accident Attorney

If you were injured in an accident caused by a driver who was wearing headphones while driving in California, contact a Los Angeles car accident attorney for assistance with your claim. The driver may be financially responsible for your past and future losses. A lawyer can help you prove the driver was at fault for failing to adhere to California’s headset laws, using evidence such as eyewitnesses or the police report. Speak to an attorney about your car accident as soon as possible for more information.

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