Wearing headphones whilst driving can be tempting. When the radio is broken, it can get lonely and boring when driving from A to B. You can play from the in-built phone speakers, but with the space in the car, that just doesn’t do the trick. So you succumb to do what you do on the train or the bus, listening to music through headphones. However, is it legal?

Is it Legal

Technically, it is not illegal to wear headphones while driving. However, don’t be misled by the simplicity in that answer. The practice is dangerous and can result in prosecution by police officers, particularly if headphones are deemed to be the cause of an accident.

Practical and Legal Challenges

The new NSW Road Rules (2014) make it an offence for a driver to drive a vehicle if he or she does not have proper control of the vehicle. Though unconfirmed, there is potential that police officers could deem that wearing headphones is a distraction that prevents a driver from having proper control of the vehicle and therefore illegal.

Though seemingly innocuous, headphones present practical difficulties and dangers. Headphones dull, eclipse or block out exterior sounds, resulting in a decreased awareness of traffic conditions. It further results in difficulties hearing sirens or horns which may result in dangerous situations resulting. For example, if you’re turning right at a T-intersection, and you miss a car on the turn, that car may horn you. If you do not hear the horn, and an accident ensues, it is possible for the court to hold that headphones was a cause of the accident due to the driver not having proper control of the vehicle.

Alternatives to Driving whilst Wearing Headphones

There are multiple ways to ensure that you are absolutely protected, physically and legally, from the dangers posed by wearing headphones while driving:

  1. Fix your radio – If you’re not fussed about the music being played whilst driving, then fixing your radio is costly but a natural solution. Taking care of your car is essential, and a radio is integral to ensuring you and your passengers enjoy the holistic driving experience.
  2. Portable speakers – A second potentially costly solution, portable speakers are on the rise in Australia and the market is spoilt with a diverse range of quality portable speakers. Connect your phone/ipod to the speakers and you will forget your stereo was ever broken.
  3. Don’t use headphones – Whilst an entertaining luxury, listening to music through headphones is not essential to driving. The potential consequences outweigh the benefits and therefore an easy cost-efficient solution is to not use headphones.
  4. In-built phone/iPod speakers – A similar cost-effective solution.
  5. Only have one headphone in your ears at any one point – Only using one headphone will allow you to hear for the conditions of traffic, sirens and horns with one ear unimpeded. Legally, it arguably weakens an argument that headphones is a cause. However, the argument is not absolved by this ‘solution’.
  6. Bring a friend – Music does not always have to be the tool to entertain you on your drives. Having a friend accompany you on your drives can make you forget the lack of music.

Conclusion

Using headphones may appear to be an innocuous practice that is, in its most technical sense, legal. However, the potential unsettled legal consequences and the dangers associated with the practice make it highly recommended to adopt an alternative solution to the headphone temptation.

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William Goh

William is a Paralegal, working in our content team, which aims to provide free legal guides to facilitate public access to legal resources. With a passion for commercial and IP law, his research focuses on small businesses, how small businesses can navigate convoluted legal procedures and the protection of intellectual property.