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Is It Legal to Wear Headphones While Driving? (2020 Update)

Is It Legal to Wear Headphones While Driving? (2020 Update)

Wearing headphones while driving isn't technically illegal, but it could still land you in hot water. Read this article to find out why.

11th March 2020

Wearing headphones while you’re driving can be tempting. Whether you’re unable to connect your personal music to your radio system or you want to take a call, wearing headphones often seems harmless. However, traffic laws in Australia aim to curtail the items which tend to distract drivers on the road to lower the number of accidents. This includes using your mobile phone or not holding on to the wheel properly. Put simply, 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 of wearing headphones itself isn’t illegal.

Is it Legal?

It is not illegal to wear headphones while driving, though it may soon be. There is no law which specifically prohibits wearing them while operating a car, and this also applies to wireless headphones. Further, a traffic camera will not take a picture of your car if you’re seen to be wearing headphones (although this is now the case for mobile phones). However, wearing headphones is still inherently dangerous and can result in prosecution in some cases. This will usually happen if you get into a car accident and you were found to be distracted while driving. Wearing headphones while driving is also often done whilst using a mobile device, which is strictly prohibited while driving and can often result in immediate loss of licence.  

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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 is therefore illegal. Police officers have a wide range of discretion when it comes to these types of offences. This means that it is safest to err on the side of caution and not wear headphones at all. 

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. Being able to hear your surroundings is crucial when driving, and restricting this can easily lead to an accident. For example, if you’re pulling out of a driveway and a car comes speeding past, you would not be able to hear it or hear the horn to warn you to stop reversing. If you don’t hear the oncoming car 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)

As a driver, it’s your responsibility to make sure that you’re in a position where you can drive safely and without distractions. Wearing headphones may seem like a good option, but there’s also much safer ways you can listen to music or receive phone calls in your car. 

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. Many cars now also have Car Play features from which you can play music by using your charging cable. Getting your radio fixed may be expensive, but it’s a small price to pay to ensure yours (and others’) safety. Most phones have speakers within them, so even if the sound quality isn’t great, it’s still safer to listen to music through your external speakers, rather than headphones. If you do this however, you must ensure that you don’t touch your phone – just put your music on shuffle. 

Portable speakers

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

Just 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. When it comes to taking phone calls, you have to ensure that it is done completely hands-free. The chances are that if you’re using headphones to receive a phone call, it won’t be hands-free. If you want to talk on the phone while driving, make sure it’s operated through your car’s bluetooth system. If you’re a learner of provisional driver, you cannot use any functions of your phone through your car system – and this includes GPS, bluetooth and listening to music. 

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 if you get into a car accident. Additionally, having the volume setting on low will lessen the likelihood that you won’t be able to hear what’s happening around you. 

Conclusion

Using headphones may appear to be an innocuous practice that allows you to enjoy music and podcasts whilst driving. Technically, driving with headphones in is within the confines of the law. However, the potential legal consequences and dangers associated make it highly recommended that you find an alternative. There’s a reason why you probably don’t see many people driving with headphones in their ears, and that’s because of how distracting it can be. 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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Author
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.