Wearing Headphones While You Drive Not As Illegal As You Might Think

One of the scariest (not to mention dumbest) thing I’ve ever seen was a knobhead cyclist weaving in and out of rush hour traffic in downtown Toronto wearing ear buds, oblivious to horns, screeching tires, squealing breaks and the sirens of emergency vehicles.  

“Jeezus, you moron,” I thought, “Do you have a death wish?”

Then there are all the times I see people behind the wheel with headphones on.  Yes, listening to a loud stereo gives you the same effect, but at least you have a better chance of hearing something that might save your life–or the life of someone else.

So how illegal is it to listen to music on ear buds/headphones?  Not as illegal as you might think, apparently.  I stumbled across this map of the US. (Click the image for more.)

I took a quick look at the Ontario Highway Traffic Act and couldn’t see anything on the subject.  Anyone have time to dig deeper or to shed some light on the (il)legality of wearing headphones while driving or cycling in Canada?

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

8 thoughts on “Wearing Headphones While You Drive Not As Illegal As You Might Think

  • April 30, 2012 at 12:38 pm

    You'd probably be charged for distracted driving or dangerous driving

  • April 30, 2012 at 1:06 pm

    It is illegal to wear earphones while cycling in Quebec and can be fined 53$ for the infraction.
    Sorry, but I don't know if it's illegal while drinving.

  • April 30, 2012 at 1:31 pm

    I guess the obvious retort is "but deaf people can drive".

    And I mean, it's kind of silly. Unless you pony up for nice sound-blocking headphones, which the vast majority of people don't, (i.e. ubiquity of those white iPod/iPhone buds), how different is it from blasting the car stereo?

    I'm not condoning it, but it seems like an odd thing to focus on without dealing with other distractions first. I do absolutely wear crappy earbuds though while riding on bike trails or multi-use paths by myself.

    I occasionally have while in traffic, but after a few near-misses recently I've gotten far more nervous. (They had to do with cars running red lights or making sudden unsignalled turns, but I still want 100% awareness.)

  • April 30, 2012 at 1:35 pm

    Haha, I didn't read Alan's post too carefully. I'll add the caveat that I follow all other road laws to the letter, and would never weave in and out of traffic. I just want my metre of space from the curb.

  • April 30, 2012 at 2:42 pm

    I have a hard time seeing how wearing headphones would be illegal when driving. How can they prove that they were distracting? Can the cop prove you were listening to music to the point of distraction, or that you even had them plugged into a device? (I know it's illogical, but it would be a valid argument when fighting the charge in court)

    Is it a good idea? Of course not! But neither are a hundred other behaviours we have while driving that result in us being distratcted (eating, drinking, touching up make-up, talking on a cell phone even if it is hands-free, checking on the kids in the backseat, etc.)

  • April 30, 2012 at 10:45 pm

    Another thing to consider is iPhone headphones that have the speaker and act as a hands free, how should that be illegal to wear when Bluetooth headsets are fine?


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