Can I Drive With Headphones On? State-By-State Guide

Except for sixteen states plus the District of Columbia, most states do not have laws prohibiting the use of headphones while driving a motor vehicle. If your state does not allow it and you're caught, you may face tickets, fines and even imprisonment. SmartFinancial strongly discourages all types of distracted driving, including headphone use — blocking out traffic noises puts you at higher risk of getting in a car accident.

Where Is It Illegal To Drive With Headphones?

Sixteen states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation that prohibits wearing headphones while driving. These states include:

  1. Alaska
  2. California
  3. Colorado
  4. Florida
  5. Georgia
  6. Illinois
  7. Louisiana
  8. Maryland
  9. Massachusetts
  10. Michigan
  11. Minnesota
  12. Ohio
  13. Pennsylvania
  14. Rhode Island
  15. Virginia
  16. Washington

Use the table below to find out if your state prohibits headphone use while driving.

State

Can You Drive While Wearing Headphones?

Exemptions

Alabama

Yes

 

Alaska

No

 

Arizona

Yes

 

Arkansas

Yes

 

California

No

Headphone use in one ear may be permitted

Colorado

No

 

Connecticut

Yes

 

Delaware

Yes

 

District of Columbia

No

Headphone use in one ear may be permitted

Florida

No

 

Georgia

No

 

Hawaii

Yes

 

Idaho

Yes

 

Illinois

No

 

Indiana

Yes

 

Iowa

Yes

 

Kansas

Yes

 

Kentucky

Yes

 

Louisiana

No

 

Maine

Yes

 

Maryland

No

 

Massachusetts

No

 

Michigan

No

Headphone use in one ear may be permitted

Minnesota

No

Headphone use in one ear may be permitted

Mississippi

Yes

 

Missouri

Yes

 

Montana

Yes

 

Nebraska

Yes

 

Nevada

Yes

 

New Hampshire

Yes

 

New Jersey

Yes

 

New Mexico

Yes

 

New York

Yes

 

North Carolina

Yes

 

North Dakota

Yes

 

Ohio

No

Headphone use in one ear may be permitted

Oklahoma

Yes

 

Oregon

Yes

 

Pennsylvania

No

 

Rhode Island

No

Headphone use in one ear may be permitted

South Carolina

Yes

 

South Dakota

Yes

 

Tennessee

Yes

 

Texas

Yes

 

Utah

Yes

 

Vermont

Yes

 

Virginia

No

Headphone use in one ear may be permitted

Washington

No

 

West Virginia

Yes

 

Wisconsin

Yes

 

Wyoming

Yes

 

Are There Any Exceptions?

Laws in some states only specify that drivers cannot drive with headphones or earbuds in both ears — they do not explicitly prohibit driving with a device inserted in a single ear.

Using an earbud in a single ear may be legally permitted in California, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Rhode Island and Virginia.

You should consult an attorney that specializes in motor vehicle law in your state to understand the full implications of headphone use while driving — even if it’s only in one ear.

Exceptions are also provided for certain professions, such as those who operate emergency vehicles (e.g., law enforcement, ambulances, firefighters). Hearing aids are another exception and can be used in both ears.

Unless your job requires it, we strongly discourage driving with headphones. Wearing them can increase the likelihood of getting into a car accident. Traffic noises can signal you to adjust your driving behavior, such as slowing down when you hear construction noise or children playing or pulling over when emergency vehicles approach from behind you.

Can You Get a Ticket for Driving With Headphones On?

If you live in a state where headphones are not allowed while driving, you may face a ticket and even imprisonment. Below are examples of legal consequences you may face if you’re caught while driving with headphones on.

State

Penalty

Georgia

  • 1st offense: $50 fine; 1 point on license
  • 2nd offense: $100 fine; 2 points on license
  • 3rd+ offense: $150 fine; 3 points on license

Louisiana

$25 fine + court costs

Massachusetts

  • 1st offense: $100 fine
  • 2nd offense: $250 fine + mandatory completion of distracted driving educational program
  • 3rd offense: $500 fine + mandatory completion of distracted driving educational program

Ohio

Up to $150 fine; Up to 60 days of imprisonment for subsequent offenses

Rhode Island

Up to $100 fine

What Are the Dangers of Driving With Headphones?

Drivers who wear headphones may not hear the sound of traffic or pedestrians. This can reduce their reaction time, potentially causing a car accident with injuries or worse — fatalities. Below are other scenarios when wearing headphones while driving puts yourself and the people around you at higher risk.

  • You’re at an intersection and do not hear ambulance sirens approaching from the left street — you proceed because the light is green and hit the ambulance.
  • After attempting to pull you over, a police officer mistakenly believes you’re fleeing but you don’t realize because you can’t hear the sirens.
  • You’re backing out of your driveway but do not hear the sound of a bicyclist alerting you with their bell and you accidentally hit them.
  • You attempt to switch lanes but do not hear the sound of a car in your blind spot honking, resulting in a collision.
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Alternatives To Driving With Headphones

These days, many smartphones have a voice assistant feature. If set up properly, drivers can use their voice assistant to make cell phone calls without their hands leaving the steering wheel.

Newer car models may offer a truly hands-off experience, allowing drivers to handle cell phone calls with buttons on their steering wheel.

Many cars allow drivers to hook up their music playlists, podcasts, audiobooks and more to the car’s stereo, as well. Just be sure to set your volume at a moderate level so you can hear surrounding traffic sounds. Avoid watching visual media, like TV shows or movies — always keep your eyes on the road.

What Happens If You’re in an Accident While Wearing Headphones?

If you’re caught in an accident while wearing headphones in a state that does not allow it, you will likely be held at least partially liable for the collision. In many states, determining fault is not always all or nothing. Both drivers may be assigned a percentage of liability for causing the accident and pay for the other driver’s losses accordingly.

Example: Driver A was speeding and ran a red light. While running the red light, he was holding his car horn to alert other drivers of his approach. However, Driver B was wearing headphones and did not hear the car horn. When the light turned green, Driver B proceeded into Driver A’s pathway and a collision ensued.

The results of each insurance company’s investigation: Driver A was 70% liable and Driver B was 30% liable. Therefore, Driver A would cover 70% of Driver B’s losses and Driver B would cover 30% of Driver A’s losses.

Although Driver A committed several traffic violations (speeding and running a red light), it was still Driver B’s responsibility to practice defensive driving and stay alert for potential dangers.

FAQs

Where is it legal to drive with headphones?

Thirty-four states do not have laws that ban the use of headphones while driving. These states include Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware and more.

Can I drive with a Bluetooth headset?

In some states, like Michigan and California, driving with a Bluetooth headset is illegal but may be permitted if worn in one ear only.

Can I talk on speaker while I’m driving?

Talking on your phone’s speaker is generally allowed while driving, so long as it’s hands-free. For example, you can talk using your phone’s speaker function or your car’s Bluetooth feature.

Can I wear headphones while driving on the job?

Certain professions, like law enforcement, firefighting and ambulatory services, permit the use of headphones while driving.

Key Takeaways

  • Sixteen states and the District of Columbia have laws banning the use of headphones while driving.
  • If you wear headphones while driving and get caught, you may face fines and even imprisonment.
  • Some states permit headphone use if an earbud is used in a single ear or for certain professions, like police officers or ambulatory technicians.
  • Wearing hearing aid devices is legally allowed while driving.

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