Is It Legal To Drive While Wearing Headphones?

Is it legal to drive while wearing headphones?Image: Sony Pictures

The only thing that makes long-distance driving tolerable is music and/or podcasts. Unfortunately, using the car stereo isn't always an option. Perhaps the speakers are busted, or the person in the passenger seat hates your taste in music. In these situations, the obvious solution is to don a pair headphones. But is this actually legal?

The short answer is yes. Wearing headphones while driving is technically legal as there are no laws specifically prohibiting their use while driving.

However, in the event of an accident, police will carefully consider the factors that contributed to the crash. This will include potential driving distractions, such as headphone use.

In NSW this would fall under Road Rule 297(1), which states:

A driver must not drive a vehicle unless the driver has proper control of the vehicle.

"Proper control" is a highly subjective phrase. If a highway patrolman decides your noisy headphones are compromising your ability to drive, they can fine you under the aforementioned road rule.

In fact, you don't even need to be involved in an accident for this to happen. (For example, you can expect to receive an infringement if your headphones drown out a police car's siren and you fail to respond as a result.)

In conclusion, wearing headphones isn't going to get your fined or arrested by itself. But if the police pull you over for any reason, it is strongly advised that you remove them before they approach your car. Better safe than sorry.

Did you just catch yourself wondering if something was legal or not? Let us know and we may be able to answer it in our next Is It Legal? feature.


    Couldn't be any more distracting than all the wannabe DJs driving around pumping out house music at 150 decibels.

      I don't know, when people can hear you coming a 100 miles away they'll realise you're a knob and take precautions to avoid you. In any case, take comfort in the fact that those people will no doubt suffer hearing loss in the not to distant future and will likely have to give up driving all together.

      In these situations, the obvious solution is to don a pair headphones. But is this actually legal?

      I disagree. The obvious solutions are: buy a cheap bluetooth speaker or ask your passengers to wear their own headphones or ear plugs. It seems pretty entitled to think it reasonable to drastically dull your sense of hearing while driving.

    or the person in the passenger seat hates your taste in music

    Pfft, you're the driver, you choose the music. If your passengers don't like it, THEY can use headphones.

      Unless the passenger is your wife. Then you do as you're told.

        Or your grandma who is sitting in the back with an umbrella.

    I've twice seen drivers with headphones cheerfully oblivious to ambulance or fire engine behind them.

    Can you drive if you're deaf or otherwise hearing impaired? I feel like a severely hearing impaired person could control a vehicle just fine, but I think by the logic of "you have to be able to hear" it would allow police to fine people for not being able to hear across the board. Is there a different law or an amendment that applies to that?

      Yes. Deaf people can and do drive. Thats why emergency vehicles have flashing lights along with sirens.

        yeah that's what I assumed, so by that logic driving with headphones should be fine

          As the article said above. Its perfectly lagal to do so. However if you do have an accident those factors will be taken into account.

            yeah that's what I was talking about - the law that you'd be breaking is "A driver must not drive a vehicle unless the driver has proper control of the vehicle.". If someone wearing headphones doesn't have proper control of the vehicle because they can't hear, then that means that police could abuse that law to over-fine deaf or hearing impaired people and have it be justified by precedent.

              Proper control of the vehicle is physical control. Not being able to hear does not constitute that. And any officer found to have over fined a deaf person would be promptly fired for illegal discrimination. Deaf people can legally drive. It is against the law for police to fine someone for being deaf.

                Proper control means being able to drive the vehicle safely, which includes hearing, sight, physical coordination of the controls, and the ability to judge traffic conditions.

                Hearing is vital to safe driving!

          They would have to take additional precautions (like regularly checking their rear mirror) to ensure they are aware of approaching emergency vehicles. If an emergency vehicle with lights and sirens activated came up behind them and their excuse was "I'm deaf, how could I know?" then the question isn't about them being deaf but not paying attention to their surroundings.

          On the other hand, you are entirely capable of removing your headphones and made the conscious choice to wear them and play them at whatever volume they're on, but a deaf person can't stop being deaf. If you were in an accident or failed to move out of an emergency vehicle's way, the fact that you chose to wear headphones might go against you.

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now