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Is Driving While Wearing Headphones Dangerous?

driving while wearing headphonesThere are many reasons you may want to use headphones while driving. However, in a lot of states, including Pennsylvania, it is illegal to do so. Even if it were not against the law, wearing headphones while driving is a dangerous idea.

Schmidt Kramer discusses the use of headphones while behind the wheel and the surprising reasons why it could lead to a crash.

If you were injured in a collision, it is a good idea to consider seeking legal help. Trying to navigate how to recover compensation can be overwhelming for many people, especially when dealing with an injury.

Need legal help in Pennsylvania? Our Harrisburg-area vehicle accident attorneys have extensive experience and offer a free initial consultation. Contact our law offices anytime, night or day, to learn more.

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Is it Illegal for Drivers to Wear Headphones in Pennsylvania?

Wearing headphones while driving in Pennsylvania is illegal, even if you are not listening to anything. This may surprise many people who feel it is a better way to operate hands-free.

The good news is that the law does permit drivers to wear a cellphone headset or Bluetooth device to talk hands-free. However, there is a distinction you must pay attention to; a legal headset may NOT cover both ears. It must be designed to go in or cover one ear only. Additionally, drivers must still be able to hear surrounding sounds in the other ear.

That said, we encourage drivers not to talk on their cellphones at all while operating their vehicles, except in an emergency situation. Even then, it is always better to find a safe place to pull over where you can talk without having to deal with traffic, distractions or potential road hazards.

What Happens When You Wear Headphones While Driving?

According to Ford Motor Company (Ford), wearing headphones while driving is a distraction and disrupts your spatial awareness. Ford did a study in Europe to prove this, with unexpected results.

Headphone Study Results

For the study, Ford created a virtual reality using an app playing familiar street noise sounds in 8D spatial audio.

These street noise cues were played for 2,000 study participants wearing headphones while playing music and participants not wearing headphones at all. The participants were then asked to listen for and correctly identify sound cues – such as the siren of an approaching emergency vehicle.

The results were astonishing. Those who wore headphones took an average of 4.2 seconds longer to recognize and identify sound cues than those not wearing headphones.

While just a little over four seconds may seem too short to matter, it can actually be life-altering. Hearing an ambulance siren sooner, for instance, can give you time to safely pull over and avoid a serious crash. It could also help you hear a motorcycle that is pulling up beside or behind you.

Interestingly, after learning about the results, 44 percent of study participants said they would not continue to wear any type of headphones while driving.

You can try out the app used in the study as well. Ford has made it available to everyone to help raise awareness about the dangers of wearing headphones while operating your vehicle.

What Are the Dangers of Wearing Headphones While Driving?

The risks are simple. Similar to dangerous visual obstructions on the road, headphones create audio obstructions. Not hearing critical sounds could cause you to be involved in a serious crash. Other studies have already proven that drivers travel the length of a football field in five seconds. Now imagine traveling nearly that far before you hear the sirens of a firetruck barreling towards an intersection you just entered. That type of situation is more common than you may think.

Common sounds you may not hear quickly enough while wearing headphones include:

  • Emergency vehicle sirens
  • Railroad crossing warning bells
  • Drivers using car horns to warn you
  • Vehicles backing up in front of you
  • Audible alarms at designated crossing areas
  • Pedestrians or cyclists shouting at you to stop
  • The motor sounds of motorcycles, trucks or cars approaching you
  • Noise from a collision or other nearby dangers

As a driver, hearing noises more quickly gives you more time to react and therefore a better chance to avoid a crash. However, it is worth pointing out that pedestrians and cyclists are also affected. Wearing headphones while driving, walking or cycling increases the odds of these vulnerable road users getting seriously injured.

Who Could Be Liable if Wearing Headphones While Driving Causes a Crash?

Anything that reduces your ability to hear also reduces your ability to drive safely. Even if there was no law against wearing headphones while driving, you still have a legal duty as a driver. This means taking reasonable steps to prevent causing harm to yourself and others.

Ignoring your legal duty makes you negligent. If that negligence leads to a crash, you can be held liable for the damages. It is also very likely that your insurance provider will increase your premiums.

Violating the law creates other legal headaches as well. To start with, the police can pull you over if they observe you driving while wearing headphones. You could then be cited for breaking the traffic law and be assessed $50 in fines, along with other court costs and fees. Unless you are a commercial driver, however, being ticketed for this violation will not add points to your driving record.

How Do You Prove the at-Fault Driver Was Wearing Headphones?

If you are injured by a driver wearing headphones, you may be able to seek significant compensation for the damages you sustained. However, you must first prove the driver was negligent. You will also need to prove how that negligence led to the crash and caused your injuries.

One thing that could help to support your claim is if first responders noted the at-fault driver wearing headphones. This could result in the driver being cited for violating Pennsylvania’s traffic law. However, even if a citation is not issued, the officer may document that violation in your police report.

If you notice the driver still wearing headphones right after the crash, you could mention it to the responding officer when he or she takes your statement. There may be other witnesses or bystanders who saw the driver wearing headphones as well.

After any crash, we strongly recommend speaking with an attorney to determine whether you may have a valid claim for compensation. Since this meeting is free, there is no risk to you.

Contact Our Trusted Law Firm to Discuss Your Crash

If you have been injured by a negligent driver, you may be eligible to seek compensation for your medical costs, lost wages and other losses.

At Schmidt Kramer, we offer a completely free initial consultation. You can get answers to your legal questions and find out if you may have a case. There is absolutely no cost involved, and there is also no obligation to take legal action.

If you choose our firm to represent you, there is nothing to pay up front or throughout the legal process. We do not get paid unless we win your case.

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