Driving with headphones? It’s tricky

A reader emailed the following question: Is it legal for a driver to wear headphones or earbuds while driving? Example given was, they enjoy listening to books on tape but do not want to make the rest of the car have to listen to it with them.

The hard part with this one is that there in no specific law that covers this topic. However, there are other laws that could possibly cover this situation, so I will do my best to explain why this answer is complicated. Generally, if there is no law prohibiting something, then it is legal. As I said, there is no statute in the Michigan Vehicle Code prohibiting headphones or earbuds, therefore making it legal. Now, before you go out and drive with headphones, be aware that Michigan has a careless driving statute, MCL 257.626B, which states:

“A person who operates a vehicle upon a highway or a frozen public lake, stream, or pond or other place open to the general public including an area designated for the parking of vehicles in a careless or negligent manner likely to endanger any person or property, but without wantonness or recklessness, is responsible for a civil infraction.”

So, based on the “totality of the circumstances” in this situation, an officer could possibly interpret your driving behavior as careless. Also, keep in mind local municipalities could have local ordinances which prohibit headphones.

Hearing can be very important for driving (hearing other vehicles, sirens, etc.), but there are no hearing requirement standards to be able to obtain a license or safely drive. For example, hearing impairments do not disqualify someone from driving, and do not mean a driver is unsafe.

When it comes to headphones, cell phones, GPS, radio or any other distraction, I encourage all drivers to minimize their use as much as possible. With fewer distractions, a driver is better able to focus on the task of driving.

Ashley Simpson is a Community Service Trooper for the MSP Alpena Post. If you have a question for Trooper Simpson, you can email her at asktroopersimpson@gmail.com or mail them to Ask A Trooper, Michigan State Police – Alpena Post, 3283 W. Washington Ave, Alpena, MI 49707.


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