Prudent driving requires focusing 100% of your attention on the driving task 100% of the time. Safe drivers keep their eyes on the road, hands on the wheel, and minds on the driving task…but what about a driver’s ears? The roadway is full of sounds that can help drivers make safe maneuvering decisions, such as a police siren or car horn. However, Texas law does not prohibit wearing headphones while driving.
Illegal vs. Unsafe
Although technically Texas traffic laws do not mention anything about wearing headphones or listening to music while driving, that does not mean drivers should engage in this dangerous behavior. Just because it is not illegal in Texas does not make it safe. In fact, drivers can still get into legal trouble for wearing headphones while driving, despite the Texas Statutes not including a rule against this practice. Law enforcement can cite drivers for dangerous driving.
Texas Transportation Code Section 545.401 says that a driver commits the offense of dangerous driving if he or she drives with a willful or wanton disregard for the safety of others. Driving with headphones can fulfill this definition by preventing a driver from paying enough attention to the road. Wearing headphones can block out important surrounding noises, increasing the risk of accidents. This could be enough to make the driver guilty of a wanton disregard for others’ safety on the roadway.
Wearing headphones is a form of distracted driving. Music or podcasts playing through headphones can block out other noises, making it impossible for the driver to completely focus on the road. Although Texas’ distracted driving laws apply mainly to cellphones, they can extend to any form of driver distraction. This can include eating, chatting, personal grooming, or listening to headphones. Distracted driving is a type of dangerous driving.
The Dangers of Wearing Headphones While Driving
Wearing headphones while you drive can increase your risk of causing an accident. You may not be able to hear people honking, shouting, or emergency vehicle sirens if you are using headphones. This can lead to delayed reaction times and a higher risk of collision. If you were wearing headphones at the time of a crash, the other driver could use this against you to prove your fault. Headphones can distract a driver enough to make him or her liable for damages in an accident case.
Even if you do not cause a collision, you could face a misdemeanor dangerous driving charge for wearing headphones. This could happen if your use of headphones contributed to you breaking a roadway rule, such as driving through a stop sign or failing to yield the right-of-way to pedestrians at a crosswalk. If your headphones distracted you enough to cause you to break a traffic law, an officer may charge you with dangerous driving. This offense can come with a fine of up to $200 and/or 30 days in jail.
Should You Wear Headphones and Drive?
To keep yourself and others safe, avoid wearing headphones behind the wheel as much as possible. If you must wear headphones while driving, make sure you have the volume low enough to still be able to listen to your surroundings. Use only one side of the earbuds to leave your other ear free to listen. The best practice is to place the headphone in your right ear, farthest away from the driver’s side window. Consider rolling a window down for better hearing of traffic conditions.
Keep your attention on the road as you listen. Do not look away from the road to fiddle with the radio or your device. Staying prudent while listening to headphones can help you prove to police that you did everything you could to prevent an accident. If you get into an accident with headphones in, remember that it does not make you automatically liable. Do not admit fault. Instead, contact a Houston car accident attorney to help you protect your rights and reduce your personal liability.
Source: Attorney Brian White
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