The alarming rate of an accident due to mobile phones had prompted the authority world over to ban using any form of communication that required holding a hand held device when a person is behind the wheel. But that doesn’t stop many from using headphones to talk even when they are mobile.
Recently, I was walking down the park, when I saw a guy narrowly missing a little boy by a whisker. A little away, a policeman stopped him because he suspected the man to be talking through his headphone. This set me thinking about whether it is legal to wear headphones while driving.
A lot of research later, I am still a little undecided.
On a global scale, a lot many countries have no prohibition whatsoever on using headphones while driving. Yet, there are quite a few countries that have explicit laws banning talking on the phone in addition to the usage of headphones, ear phones, earbuds et al.
For instance, in NSW, per their traffic rules, using headphones is not a crime per se but it is considered dangerous nevertheless. The truant can be prosecuted if he causes an accident.
The prohibition may be strict albeit very practical:
A driver behind the wheel has to be excessively alert while navigating. It is highly probable that if he is talking to someone on his phone with either a wireless or corded headphone that he gets carried away with it and become less alert and aware of the traffic conditions surrounding him.
It is not just dangerous for self but also to others.
It is obvious that if the driver is wearing an ear phone or an earbud or a headphone, it is going to dull and considerably block the sound of horns and sirens around him.
There is a good chance even that if he listening to music, he gets carried away at the moment and is not able to concentrate on the road ahead.
Is not able to take the right decision in life altering situations? This is how most accidents happen. It is too late to realize that it could have been averted only if the driver had parked the vehicle near the sidewalk if taking the call was sine quo-non.
Is hearing an important cognition for driving?
I realized that it all boils down to conclusively arriving at the fact that even though hearing may not directly be cognition necessary for driving, still, being able to catch sounds from co vehicles is important not just of the self but also for the safety of others that are using the road.
Compromising on the safety of co-travelers is not a done thing.
A comprehensive study of the laws in various countries presented quite some confusion. But it was assuring to know that a lot of federal states within the US alone had a ban on drivers using ear phones or headsets that were connected to devices that were capable of audio broadcast receipt and sound recording devices. There is a very heavy fine that is associated with law breakers.
In some of the states where headphones are categorically banned for safety reasons, allow motorcycle helmets that come built with headphones that support wireless hands free communication system. Also some of them do not mind if the drivers wear earbuds or sound devices that need to be fitted over the ear lobe so that the hearing canal is not completely blocked.
States such as West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming, Vermont, Utah, Rhode Island and Texas have completely prohibited the use of headphones behind the wheel. They do not even allow bikers to use helmets fitted with wireless headphones built inside. Some of the states have an exception to the rules. If the headphone is connected to a device that is singly helping in navigating the motor vehicle then it is allowed.
In Ohio, ear phone or bud in one ear only is allowed and in Arizona, motor vehicles that are used for transporting children and seniors are strictly prohibited from drivers using any form of communication where they would be likely to cover their ears. Consequently, school bus drivers cannot in any circumstance afford to wear a headphone and evade police scrutiny.
It all boils down to the fact that wearing a device that covers any one of the senses like a headphone can mean distraction from the road and also slower reactions in unexpected traffic conditions.
It is not a great idea because it can limit the hearing and is considered extremely dangerous for people who should be alert and awake every minute that they are behind the wheel.