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Blog: Is driving while wearing earphones illegal?

A woman driving while wearing earphonesDriving with earphones in: I think it’s stupid, but is it illegal? My run-in with a taxi driver on this issue led me to check the law – and questions drivers’ common sense.

Let me set the scene.

A group of girls, getting ready to go out on a Saturday night, call a taxi to take them into town.    

The taxi duly arrives. I get in the front passenger seat.

But as I greet the driver I notice he’s wearing earphones – in-ear earphones I should stress – in both ears.

The earphones are plugged into his mobile phone which is on the seat between his legs.

Earphone argument

The driver barely hears me as I greet him. So goodness knows how he thought he’d hear noise outside of the vehicle – you know, little but important sounds such as oncoming traffic, emergency vehicles and the like.

I ask him if he’s planning to drive with the earphones in. He looks at me in surprise and pulling one earphone out he answers.

Yes, he says, it’s hands-free for his mobile phone so he can take calls.

I ask him, very politely, to remove the earphones for our journey into town. I explain that he can’t hear external noises as well with his earphones in.

He gets irate and says again, it’s hands-free for his phone so he can answer calls.

Hearing is caring

I say it may well be hands-free but it’s diminishing his hearing.

He calls me rude and asks me to quote the law which says he can’t drive with earphones in.

At this point, I come a little unstuck. I don’t know the law.

I was going on good old common sense which tells me that if you are driving, you will need to hear what’s going on around you and earphones don’t help you do that.

He disagrees and it turns into a little row.

He eventually pulls the earphones from his ears in disgust and drives me and my three friends (who have been unsupportively silent in the back seat) into town.

The law

So what is the law on driving with earphones in?

Well, a spokeswoman from Gwent Police’s road safety division says: "There is no law specifically banning the use of earphones while driving."

However, the use of earphones at the wheel would fall under the Road Traffic Act offence of not being in control of a vehicle, the spokeswoman adds.

"It would be up to the officer at the roadside to judge whether they thought the driver's control was impaired by the use of earphones or any other activity such as changing a CD or smoking.

"If a driver listening to earphones was involved in a collision then they could face charges under the more serious offence of dangerous driving."

Also, section 148 of the Highway Code states: "Safe driving and riding needs concentration. Avoid distractions when driving or riding such as loud music (this may mask other sounds)."

Potential prosecution

So, regardless of whether you are driving with a legitimate hands-free kit – one that allows you to operate your mobile phone without holding it – you can still be prosecuted for not being in control of a vehicle.

It seems pretty clear that while there is no specific law banning the use of earphones when driving, it certainly doesn’t mean such behaviour is legal.

However, do we really need a law to tell us something that, in my opinion, is simple common sense?

Also, I know you don’t need two earphones for a hands-free call, just one. But even this doesn’t seem safe to me.

If you are going to use hands-free regularly, you really should go ahead and get a proper kit installed where the sound comes through your car speakers.

Arrogant behaviour

Now, the advent of portable music devices and music on mobile phones does mean that many of us can and do go around with earphones glued to our ears.

But just because as pedestrians, cyclists, bikers and drivers we can listen to music as we travel, it doesn’t mean we should.

Driving around with earphones is one, arrogant, and two, a blatant and unhealthy disregard for road safety that says we should be alert to other road users.

What do you think?

Do you agree that driving with earphones in is dangerous or do you feel it is fine to do so?

Have you driven with earphones in – either for hands-free mobile phones use or to listen to music? If so, why? And would you do so again?

We want to hear from you! Leave your points of view on the message board below.

Naphtalia Loderick

Naphtalia Loderick

Naphtalia Loderick covers all things consumer for She started out on a weekly newspaper, via a national news agency and a stint in the fun but ‘not as glamorous as it appears on screen’ world of TV at the BBC researching consumer films for The One Show.

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