Is It Illegal to Wear Headphones While Driving in California?

Automobile accidents are a common occurrence in both urban and rural areas in the United States. California is one of the most diverse states in the country, and it is home to many drivers who find themselves involved in motor vehicle accidents. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that over six million traffic collisions are reported to law enforcement agencies each year in the United States.

Drivers may do everything within their power to be attentive and cautious while driving, yet still find themselves involved in an accident. Some drivers may be performing actions that are putting their own lives and the lives of others at risk of serious bodily injury or death. How drivers behave while driving can influence whether they are dangerous to themselves and other drivers.

Paying attention to one’s environment is a crucial part of being a safe driver in California. However, drivers must do more than simply watch the road pass in front of them. Drivers must also listen for sounds that can signal the approach of an oncoming vehicle or another object. Technological advances will force state legislatures to pass new provisions to ensure drivers responsibly behave while driving on the roads in California.

Some drivers may not understand which behaviors are legal to engage in while driving. Other drivers may assume that some actions are illegal to perform while driving. In 2016, the state legislature made it illegal for individuals to wear headphones while biking or driving in California. AirPods are a popular consumer item among drivers of all ages. The California Department of Transportation must keep track of evolving technology so the state can regulate behavior that may likely cause serious bodily injury or death.

Driving while wearing headphones is an extremely risky behavior. Headphones drown out other sounds that drivers may need to hear to prevent an accident. These devices deprive drivers of the ability to use their sense of hearing while driving. Environmental sounds, alerts from other drivers, and alarm signals may go unnoticed by drivers who are wearing headphones. A driver who uses headphones while driving an automobile is engaging in dangerous activity. Distracted driving is one of the leading causes of automobile accidents in California. Using headphones while driving violates California law.

It Is Dangerous for Drivers to Wear Headphones While Driving

Drivers must pay attention to the sounds and atmospheric details that surround them while driving. Listening with full attention while driving can alert drivers to mechanical problems with a vehicle. Also, sudden environmental changes can arise suddenly, and a driver who does not hear thunder will be less likely to watch out for downpours and flooded roads.

driver-using-headphone-while-drivingDrivers who use headphones while driving do not use their sense of hearing to stay focused on the act of driving. Listening to music, or talking to a friend on the phone, can distract a driver from auditory cues that may provide a warning about possible dangers. Listening to headphones keeps drivers distracted, and their mental focus shifts away from the complex task of driving. Also, drivers need to be aware of other automobiles on the road, and using headphones can prevent drivers from hearing other vehicles.

Technological advances have made headphones louder and more likely to shut out surrounding auditory cues. Drivers who are immersed in what they are listening to with headphones may not hear a pedestrian screaming or a fellow driver using their horn. Being unaware of pending dangers can increase the likelihood that a driver will be involved in an accident that causes serious bodily injury or death.

Emergency vehicles such as ambulances and firetrucks use loud sounds to alert drivers to move out of the way. A driver wearing headphones may not hear sirens or alarms. Also, a driver may not hear a police officer’s siren when the officer is attempting to pull over the driver.

Distracted Drivers in California

Distracted driving is a serious problem in California. Drivers who wear headphones while driving are distracted because they do not use their sense of hearing to watch out for auditory signals. Bicyclists and drivers may use wireless headphones to listen to podcasts or speak to friends and family on the telephone.

Some drivers believe that using headphones is safer than looking down at a device and taking their eyes off the road. However, drivers become distracted by the music, podcasts, and conversations they are immersed in, and this distraction may lead to automobile accidents resulting in serious bodily injury or death.

Drivers who wear headphones cannot hear someone screaming for help on the side of the road. Also, distracted drivers who wear headphones cannot respond to ambulances and police cruisers that use sirens to alert drivers to move out of the way. Bicyclists and pedestrians who wear headphones may be unable to hear the sound of an approaching vehicle, and it is possible for them to be struck by a moving vehicle. Even driving with only one headphone can still be distracting and prevent drivers from heeding auditory cues that can protect their lives and the lives of others.

Laws Regulating the Use of Headphones in California

California Vehicle Code Section 27400 regulates the use of headphones in California. Drivers and bicyclists cannot use headphones while they are driving an automobile or riding a bicycle. California Vehicle Code Section 27400 states as follows: “No person operating a motor vehicle or bicycle may wear headphones, earplugs, or a headset that covers, rests in, or is inserted in both ears.” AirPods fall under this code section, and drivers and bicyclists cannot wear AirPods while operating vehicles in California.

a-headphone-and-gavelThe following guidelines may help individuals understand how California Vehicle Code Section 27400 applies to them: 

  • Drivers should use an automobile stereo system to enjoy music while driving.
  • Individuals who need access to their phones should use phone holders. Drivers can still pay attention to the road while speaking on the telephone.
  • Using only one headphone may be better than using both headphones. A driver can hear ambulances, police cruisers, and other auditory cues out of one ear.
  • Many automobiles now have audio systems that allow users to take calls using speakers inside the automobile. Drivers who have access to these systems do not need to use headphones when they are driving.

It is unclear whether individual drivers in California can wear one headphone while driving. Under California Vehicle Code Section 27400, individuals must not wear headphones covering both ears. Yet even using one headphone can place drivers at risk of being in an accident that causes serious bodily injury or death.

Drivers need to pay attention to their surroundings while driving, which includes listening to auditory signals that can alert them to dangerous conditions. Any number of sounds may cause drivers to stop their automobiles and watch out for any incoming threats. A driver wearing headphones is more likely to cause serious bodily injury to themselves or others. All drivers may not be paying attention to their surroundings, and hearing sounds while driving can help drivers avoid accidents. Headphones that come equipped with the capability to cancel noises can be extremely dangerous if drivers wear them while driving.

Exemptions Under California Law

California is a large and diverse state. Highway systems in major cities such as San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco can easily become congested. Drivers need to pay attention to their surroundings while driving so they can protect their own lives and the lives of others.

However, some drivers in California may need to wear headphones and headsets while driving. Individual citizens may need to use headphones, hearing aids, and other devices. California Vehicle Code Section 27400 does not apply in the following circumstances: 

  • Individuals who have to use prosthetic devices due to deafness or impaired hearing
  • Employees and others who must use devices designed to protect hearing and reduce levels of noise that can damage the eardrum and cochlea (Most of these devices allow those who wear them to recognize ambulances, police cruisers, and other emergency personnel vehicles.)
  • Employees who must wear safety headphones or headsets to protect them during their work conditions.
  • Employees who wear protective headgear while they are operating heavy machinery, construction equipment, and other tools.
  • Employees who use emergency vehicles and must wear protective headgear to perform their job duties.

Under California state law, drivers and bicyclists may wear one headphone or headset while driving an automobile. The device must only cover one ear. All drivers and bicyclists who cover both ears with headphones while driving violate California law.

Penalties for Using Headphones While Driving in California

Individuals may be fined $197.00 for driving while wearing headphones in California. Also, individuals who wear headphones while driving will also have one point applied to their motor vehicle record. Drivers who obtain an excessive number of points in a specific period of time may have their driving privileges suspended. The point limits in California are eight points in thirty-six months, six points in twenty-four months, and four points in twelve months. Missing court appearances may lead to individuals being charged with a misdemeanor for failure to appear.

Some drivers cause traffic accidents while wearing headphones as they are driving. Under these circumstances, the driver wearing headphones may face civil liability. Drivers who do not focus all their attention on the road conditions and other drivers and who cause a motor vehicle accident may be financially liable for the injured party’s economic and non-economic damages.

girl-drinking-coffee-while-wearing-headphones-on-the-roadDrivers who cause injuries while wearing headphones may have to pay for property damage, lost earnings, and medical treatment. Some drivers might be subject to criminal charges if the automobile accident resulted in death or serious bodily injury. Drivers need to consider the possible consequences when they consider wearing headphones while driving or bicycling in California.

Challenging a California Vehicle Code Section 27400 Violation

Individuals can always contest the ticket they receive for violating California Vehicle Code Section 27400. Some offenders may retain legal representation and develop a defensive strategy. Most drivers and bicyclists reach out to criminal defense attorneys for assistance with California Vehicle Code Section 27400 violations.

The Typical Defenses Applicable to California Vehicle Code 2740 Charges

The following are some of the most frequently used defenses for individuals fighting charges under California Vehicle Code Section 27400

  • An individual may not have been driving or riding a bicycle while wearing headphones.
  • An individual may have only been wearing one headphone instead of two headphones.
  • The individual charged with the offense is exempted from wearing headphones under California Vehicle Code Section 27400.

Witness statements, surveillance videos, and photographs are the most important types of evidence that can strengthen a strong defensive strategy.

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DISCLAIMER: Information provided on this blog is not formal legal advice. It is generic legal information. Under no circumstances should the information on this page be relied upon when deciding the proper course of a legal action. Always obtain a free and confidential case evaluation from a reputable attorney near you if you think you might have a personal injury lawsuit.

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