In today’s tech savvy world, drivers are increasingly using earbuds or headphones to listen to music while driving. Others use Bluetooth devices or other hands-free headsets behind the wheel. Laws regulating these activities vary widely from state to state.
What the Law Says
At last count, 32 of the 50 states have no statutes prohibiting headsets or earbuds for drivers. Virginia is not one of these 32 states. Va. Code § 46.2-1078 provides that, “[t]t shall be unlawful for any person to operate a motor vehicle, bicycle, electric personal assistive mobility device, electric power-assisted bicycle, or moped on the highways in the Commonwealth while using earphones on or in both ears.” The statute defines “earphones” as “any device worn on or in both ears that converts electrical energy to sound waves or which impairs or hinders the person’s ability to hear.” The ban applies only to earphones used in both ears. Drivers in Virginia may lawfully use an earbud, headphone, or Bluetooth device in one ear only.
There are several exceptions to the statute. For example, drivers in Virginia are permitted to wear :
(i) any prosthetic device that aids the hard of hearing,
(ii) earphones installed in helmets worn by motorcycle operators and riders and used as part of a communications system, and
(iii) nonprosthetic, closed-ear, open-back, electronic noise-cancellation devices designed and used to enhance the hearing ability of persons who operate vehicles in high-noise environments, provided any such device is being worn by the operator of a vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating of 26,000 pounds or more.
Emergency vehicles are also exempt from the statute.
Regardless of whether it is legal in your jurisdiction, wearing earphones while driving (or cycling, or even walking down the street) can be hazardous. The inability to hear traffic around you, especially car horns, can prevent you from noticing and reacting to dangerous situations.