man driving with wireless earphones airpods, distracted drivingWearing wireless headphones while driving has become a dangerous behind-the-wheel habit. When Apple Airpods first came on the market in December 2016, the small earbuds changed how we listen to music. In the last five years, wired headphones have become more of a relic of history as people transition to Airpods and similar wireless headphones and earbuds manufactured by Bose, Sony, Samsung, Google, Beats, and more. Earbuds are a common sight everywhere; from gyms and college campuses to trains and airplanes. Smartphone users increasingly use earbuds to have hands-free conversations. Bluetooth headphones seem to have made day-to-day tasks more convenient, simply by eliminating the wire. But has it caused more of a distraction too? 

Distracted driving causes about 3,000 deaths and 280,000 injuries per year. The rapid development of wireless earphones has indeed established a more convenient lifestyle but has also increased the number of distracted drivers on the road. 

AAA was quick to warn about the dangers of earbuds within days of Airpods coming on the market; namely “inattentional blindness.”  One study—published four years before the Airpods existed—predicted the dangers of them. The more enticing the device, the greater the risk of injury from distraction or removing sounds. The active noise cancellation and active noise reduction features can prevent you from hearing what’s going on around you.


Can You Wear Apple Airpods or Bluetooth Headphones While Driving?

It is seemingly easy to justify a pair of small, extremely comfortable earbuds in our ears. You may even forget they are there. However, the size of a headset, the presence or lack of wires, and even the volume of music (or lack of sound thereof), does not matter. Per the California Driver Handbook, it is against the law to wear headphones in both ears while driving. This applies even if the earbuds are just resting in our ears.

It is legal to wear an earbud in only one ear, however, this can affect your sound localization and directional hearing. When you are in motion and have an earbud in one ear, it can be difficult to identify where sounds are coming from. Driving with earbuds that have active noise cancellation, or similar anti-noise features, which block out external sounds can be especially dangerous. Most advocacy groups agree, even when they are legal, it is better not to wear earbuds. 


What About Cyclists and Pedestrians – Can They Wear Earbuds? 

California Vehicle Code 27400 applies to both motorists and bicyclists. Cyclists need to be able to hear what’s going on around them so that they react appropriately and can make safe riding decisions. 

There have been a number of tragic accidents involving pedestrians listening to music being struck by vehicles, buses, or trains. Listening to music, an audiobook, or a podcast can be a major distraction. You may think that if you’re not driving, you do not need to make any traffic decisions. This is not true. If you are a cyclist or pedestrian, you must share the road with others, and you must be alert. 


What about Driving While Wearing Smart Glasses? 

One rapidly growing area of wearable tech is smart glasses, like Facebook’s Ray-Ban Stories and Bose Audio Sunglasses. Smart glasses are prescription or non-prescription glasses which include an audio component and allow wearers to play audio from anything on a smartphone – such as music, a podcast, or even a movie. They use cellular technology, Wi-Fi, or Bluetooth. While not technically earbuds or headphones, the audio component of Smart glasses makes them a bit of a legal gray area. 

From the perspective of eliminating distraction while driving, using Smart glasses can contribute to loss of situational awareness. The onboarding tutorial for Ray-Ban Smartglasses reminds wearers to follow local laws and turn off electronic functionalities if necessary to maintain attention while driving. Additionally, the fine print warns users that certain lens categories are not suitable for driving in twilight or at night.


Apple AirPods Do’s and Don’ts

The following are some general do’s and don’ts of using wireless earbuds or AirPods: 


  • Do use your vehicle’s sound system and Bluetooth technology to take calls. 
  • Do use a holder for your phone to keep it in one place while you are driving 
  • Do weigh your risks and limit the calls you actually take. If traffic is heavy, the weather is bad, or the caller may upset you, let the call go to voicemail and have the conversation another time. 


  • Don’t wear both earbuds behind the wheel. 
  • Don’t send text messages or scroll social media while driving. 
  • Don’t use noise reduction or cancellation features while walking near vehicles. 


Distracted driving on the rise, speak with an expert Orange County Car Accident Attorney

If you happen to be in an accident and notice the driver is wearing earbuds or headphones, this should be noted. If the other driver was distracted, they may be liable for your injuries, including your medical expenses, lost earnings, and pain and suffering. 

After an accident, time is of the essence. Consult with an expert Orange County car accident attorney to discuss your legal rights. The personal injury lawyers at the Law Offices of Samer Habbas & Associates have the knowledge and experience in handling a variety of car accident claims, including accidents caused by a distracted driver

With multiple offices located in Irvine, Anaheim, Los Angeles, El Segundo, Riverside and San Diego, our car accident attorneys represent injured victims across Southern California. For more information or to schedule a complimentary consultation with an expert Orange County personal injury lawyer, please call 949-727-9300.

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