Is It Legal to Wear Headphones While Driving in Florida?

On Behalf of | May 18, 2016 | Car Accidents

Florida’s driving laws don’t always say what you think they might say. The Sunshine State is full of surprises.

One might reasonably wonder, then, whether it is legal to wear headphones while driving in Florida. As it turns out, that’s a common Google query — but it’s one that produces a litany of misleading answers from unreliable websites.

In the iPod era, traditional radios and CD players are becoming increasingly obsolete. Vehicle stereo systems haven’t quite caught up, though (at least not outside of the luxury market). That leads drivers to wonder — can they simply drive with headphones or earbuds instead?

The state’s answer is surprisingly clear and stern.

Pursuant to Florida Statute 316.304, it is illegal to operate a vehicle while wearing headphones, headsets, earbuds, or any other listening device in The Sunshine State.

Why is it illegal? And why is that a surprise? We explain below.

Wearing Headphones While Driving Is Dangerous

Driving while listening to music is hardly uncommon. While safety experts disagree as to whether that’s appropriate, there is almost universal agreement that music that is too loud or distracts the driver is dangerous.

Things can go wrong quickly. If your car suddenly begins to exhibit mechanical problems, if road conditions start to change, if an emergency vehicle is approaching, or if other motorists sound their horns at you, it’s critical that you be able to hear those things.

Loud music makes it difficult to hear your surroundings. Music from an earbud or headphone, though, makes that almost impossible. The audio source is simply too close to your ears to allow for safe, conscientious driving.

Safety experts also caution that the wires attached to many headsets pose a strangulation hazard or could otherwise cause life-threatening damage in a high-speed collision.

Florida Isn’t Always So Strict

Florida’s law against wearing headsets behind the wheel is stricter than most states’. In fact, it is generally still legal to wear headphones while driving in most parts the country.

That’s surprising because Florida doesn’t exactly have a reputation for tough driving laws. For example:

  • Bicycle helmets generally aren’t required for cyclists over the age of 16.
  • Motorcycle helmets generally aren’t required for bikers over the age of 21 (provided that they have insurance).
  • Texting while driving only recently became a secondary offense here (and the law is rarely enforced).

As Miami auto accident attorneys, we’ve often called on state and county leaders to crack down on the dangerous driving habits that are so pervasive in our state. Driving with headphones, fortunately, has been less problematic in Florida than some of these other vices (thanks in no small part to this statute).

Is It Legal to Wear Headphones While Riding a Bike in Florida?

Florida law defines vehicle to include bicycles. In other words, bicycles are considered vehicles in Florida. Accordingly, Florida Statute 316.304 applies to cyclists too.

It is illegal to wear headphones or earbuds while riding a bicycle in Florida. That fact comes as a surprise to many cyclists, especially those visiting here from other states.

Despite the high rate of cyclist fatalities in our county, Miami continues to host large numbers of out-of-state cyclists every year. It is important, then, to get the word out about this little-known law.

Exceptions to the Rule

Florida Statute 316.304 includes a number of exceptions, though none of them will let you jam out to your favorite rock band while cruising down Interstate 95 in your car, truck, or SUV.

Exceptions exist for:

  • Hearing aid instruments used by the hearing impaired
  • Police officers who are using headsets in the course of their duties
  • Motorcycle license applicants who are using approved headsets that are required as part of the state’s official examination
  • Headsets that are used for communication (e.g. connected to a cell phone), provided that the headset only covers one ear while the other ear is free to hear surrounding noises.
  • Motorcyclists who are wearing safety helmets that are specially designed with speakers inside, provided that the helmet prevents the speakers from making direct contact with the ears, so that the ears are still able to hear surrounding sounds. (Note: nothing in the statute specifically prohibits listening to music in these approved helmets, though it is almost certainly safer to avoid doing so.)

Legal Representation for Injured Florida Drivers and Passengers

If you’ve been injured in an auto accident caused by someone who was wearing earbuds or headphones, you may be entitled to financial compensation. The experienced Miami auto accident attorneys at Kaire & Heffernan, LLC can help. Contact us to schedule a free consultation today.
Photo Credits:JellalunaKurayba cc

Mark Kaire has been practicing law in Miami for nearly 30 years. He is dedicated to helping the injured people of Miami receive compensation. Mr. Kaire has been blogging on Miami’s legal issues for many years.