Drivers are legally obligated to pay attention to their surroundings while operating a motor vehicle on a California roadway. Listening to audio through headphones prevents a driver from effectively using one of their most important senses. This may leave the driver unable to notice emergency sirens, other motorists signaling with their horns, passengers in their own car calling attention to safety issues, or important environmental cues like the squealing tires of another car. This creates a hazard comparable to distracted driving, and for this reason, it is illegal to operate a motor vehicle in California while using headphones, earbuds, or any other device that covers or plugs both ears.

Surprising Facts About Wearing Headphones While Driving in California

Like so much of what we do on public roadways, however, keeping our ears open is closely regulated with public health and safety in mind. Here are some things you may not know about the California legal system’s relationship with headphones:

  • – It’s not only illegal to wear headphones while driving a motorized car or truck, but it’s also illegal to use them on a bicycle. This makes perfect sense in crowded urban scenarios where awareness can routinely save a cyclist’s life. Some California cyclists report that it’s less likely you will be ticketed biking a desolate country road with your earbuds in, but it’s technically illegal on any roadway open to the public. Invest in a personal Bluetooth speaker that clips to your gear or mounts to your handlebars.
  • – While wireless earbuds are just as illegal behind the wheel as bulky, over-the-ear studio headphones, they can help you leverage a loophole. You are legally allowed to operate a vehicle with a single earbud or AirPod in. This can be adequate for listening to talk radio or podcasts, but results are often disappointing if you’re trying to appreciate a crisp stereo mix of your favorite musical artist.
  • – There are some exceptions to the headphone ban. People who can use dual-ear headsets or even earplugs while driving include emergency vehicle drivers, garbage collectors, people operating road construction or maintenance equipment, and drivers with medical hearing devices.
  • – Driving while wearing headphones is not covered under distracted driving or any related charge but is described by its own specific law, California Vehicle Code 27400 VC – “Headsets or Earphones While Driving.”
  • – A violation of 27400 VC will result in one point on a Californian’s driving record under the DMV’s point system. Suspensions for negligent driving can be incurred if a driver accumulates four points in a year, six points in two years, or eight in three years.
  • – If you feel you’ve been wrongly ticketed for headphone use, a 27400 VC violation can be challenged in court like any other traffic charge. Simply ignoring the ticket, however, could lead to a more serious misdemeanor failure to appear charge.
  • – If you’ve been injured by a driver wearing headphones, you may be entitled to significant damages.

Why Driving With Headphones Is Illegal in California

Wearing headphones on both ears knowingly and deliberately restricts your ability to hear the outside world. This includes emergency vehicles, other motorists, and people in your own car. This can be a wonderful thing if you’re trying to relax in the backseat, but when you’re driving, it turns you into a public safety hazard, much like any other distracted driver.

Rather than risk a ticket and your life by driving with headphones, consider some simple alternatives:

  • – A small, rechargeable Bluetooth speaker is affordable, easy to use, and an adequate short-term replacement for a broken car stereo.
  • – Automobile sound systems have faders that allow the audio output to be localized to the front, rear, right, or left side of the vehicle. Adjust these settings rather than use headphones if your goal is to avoid disturbing passengers.
  • – Opt for public transportation or ridesharing. You can focus on your listening and let a professional concentrate on the road for you.
  • – Walking with headphones is legal — but it’s still important to be aware of your surroundings.
  • – It’s legal to drive while using a single-ear device or with one earbud in.

FAQs

Q: Can you wear AirPods while driving in California?

A: No. Any device worn over or inside both ears is illegal to use while operating a motor vehicle or bicycle in California, and this includes wireless stereo earbuds of all styles. There is a loophole, however. Using only one of your AirPods while driving remains perfectly legal. Bluetooth headsets specifically designed for single-ear use are also acceptable.

Q: Is wearing headphones while driving illegal?

A: Yes, it is illegal to wear headphones while driving in the State of California. In addition to traditional headphones, any other device worn over or inside both ears is likewise illegal to use while driving a car or even a bicycle. This is explicitly codified into law under California Vehicle Code 27400 VC.

Q: Are AirPods illegal while driving?

A: Yes, it is illegal to drive while using any device worn over or inside both of your ears, and all wireless stereo earbuds like AirPods are included in this definition. Don’t assume you’re safe simply because AirPods slip discreetly into your ears; law enforcement officers are always on the lookout for distracted drivers. Driving with only one of your AirPods remains legal. When using this method, we recommend keeping your roadside ear open (your left ear in the United States).

Q: How much is a ticket for wearing headphones in California?

A: A ticket for violating California Vehicle Code 27400 VC (“Headsets or Earphones While Driving”) is $197. Violators also receive a point on their license. Those with previous traffic violations could thereby be subject to additional consequences, such as suspension of driving privileges, under the DMV’s point system.

Injured by a Driver Wearing Headphones? Call Kenneth M. Sigelman & Associates

If you’ve been injured in California due to a driver illegally using headphones or earbuds while operating a vehicle, you may be able to sue for significant damages. Whether your role in the accident was that of pedestrian, passenger, or motorist, call the offices of Kenneth M. Sigelman & Associates to set up a consultation today. The personal injury team at Sigelman & Associates will analyze every aspect of your accident with compassion and attention to detail to determine the best strategy for seeking maximum compensation.