Wearing headphones whilst driving can be tempting. Perhaps you’re unable to connect your personal music to your radio system or you want to take a call. Either way, wearing headphones while driving can be a difficult habit to break –  but it is one that should be broken.

While wearing headphones when driving can be distracting, it is not technically illegal. In this article we’ll discuss the legalities surrounding this and how you could still get pulled up for it, even if the act itself isn’t illegal.

Is it Legal?

Technically, it is not illegal to wear headphones while driving. There is no law which specifically prohibits wearing them while operating a car. However, it is still inherently dangerous and can result in prosecution. This is particularly so if they 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 earphones is a distraction that prevents a driver from having proper control of the vehicle and therefore illegal.

Though seemingly innocuous, earphones 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, that car may honk at you.

If you don’t hear this, and an accident occurs, the Court can rule that headphones caused the accident. This is because it can be argued that you did not have proper control of the car.

Protecting yourself (and others)

There are multiple ways to ensure that you are protected from the dangers posed by wearing headphones while driving, which we will detail below.

Fix your radio

Fixing your radio will negate the need for you to wear headphones in the car. From this, you can also connect bluetooth and play your preferred music that way. Getting your radio fixed may be expensive, but it’s a small price to pay to ensure your safety.

Portable speakers

Portable speakers are on the rise in Australia. There is a wide range of speakers you can get which will play music off your phone or music player. Using portable speakers will mean that you can enjoy the music you love, without putting yourself or others on the road at risk.

Don’t use them

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 simply not use headphones.

Only have one headphone in your ear (if you’re going to wear them)

Only using one headphone will allow you to hear for the conditions of traffic, sirens and horns with one ear unimpeded. Legally, it may weaken an argument that headphones is a cause. Although not as bad as wearing both headphones, wearing one is still not an ideal solution.

Conclusion

Using headphones may appear to be an innocuous practice that is, in its most technical sense, legal. However, the potential legal consequences and dangers associated make it highly recommended that you find an alternative. If you are caught driving with headphones it is recommended that you seek the advice of a traffic lawyer, regardless of whether or not you were involved in an accident.

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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.