Is it legal to wear headphones while driving or biking in California? What to know

Your headphones might have better bass than your car, but you’ll want to think twice before putting them while driving.

A reader asked The Sacramento Bee: “Is it illegal to wear headphones or earpods in both ears while driving or riding a bicycle in California? I’ve noticed it happening more often lately, but I always thought it was illegal.”

The state has specific rules governing headphone usage while operating a vehicle. Here’s what to know:

Can I wear a headphone while driving?

It is illegal to have a headset on while driving or biking, according to California Vehicle Code 27400.

“A person operating a motor vehicle or bicycle may not wear a headset covering, earplugs in or earphones covering, resting on, or inserted in both ears,” the code states.

Even if you’re not using your headphones or playing music, it’s still illegal to have them on.

“The simple act of these devices covering, resting on or inserted into both ears is enough to violate (California code),” Shouse California Law Group, a California-based law firm, said on its website.

Are there exceptions to earphone use ban?

There are exceptions to the vehicle code.

This includes people operating emergency vehicles and employees who are using equipment for the construction or maintenance of a highway, according to the code.

Those in waste management can also use safety headsets or earplugs when operating refuse collection equipment.

Additionally, people using prosthetic devices to help them hear or protect their hearing are exempt from the code.

Hearing protectors must be “in the form of earplugs or molds that are specifically designed to attenuate injurious noise levels,” the code said. They must be designed to allow for the person to hear sirens and horns from emergency vehicles and other cars.

What if I only use one earplug?

According to Shouse Law, using one earplug is acceptable because California vehicle code specifies covering both ears.

“Technically, a driver or biker can wear one earplug, or cover one ear with a headset, and not violate (the law),” the firm said.

What’s the fine if I’m caught using a headset?

If you’re caught with a headset, earplugs or earphones in both ears while driving or biking, you’ll get fined.

Fines start at $197, the law firm said.

You’ll also get one point on your California driving record, which could lead to a suspended license if the points amount to four points in 12 months, six points in 24 months or eight points in 36 months.

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