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Yes, it is illegal to wear headphones while driving, or biking, in Virginia

Posted on June 15th, 2011

Yes, it is illegal to wear headphones while driving, or biking, in Virginia

A disturbingly dangerous trend has developed among the tech savvy youth in Richmond, Virginia. This trend is the operation of a motor vehicle or bicycle while using earphones. After reading, and hearing, much erroneous information on the topic I wish to clear the air once and for all. Yes. It is illegal.

Ill-conceived myths include, and are by no means limited to, ear “buds” are not earphones, you can listen to them if they merely cover your ear but don’t go inside, and you can wear them if you are riding a bicycle. These ideas are all false and may lead to a ticket, or worse. Virginia Code Annotated § 46.2-1078 is titled: “Unlawful to operate a motor vehicle, bicycle, electric personal assisted mobility device, electric power-assisted bicycle, or moped while using earphones.” The title of the statute says it all, but in case you were unclear as to what constitutes earphones, the Virginia General Assembly covered that as well. Earphones are “any device worn on or in both ears that converts electrical energy to sound waves or which impairs or hinders the person’s ability to hear . . .” Va. Code Ann. § 46.2-1078. Virginia makes no distinction between earphones, ear buds, or headsets. If it has the ability to hinder your hearing, and is not within an exception, it is illegal to wear while operating a motor vehicle.

Presumably, the reasoning behind the law is to prevent a driver from becoming distracted, or to prevent the driver from being unable to hear approaching emergency vehicles. Distracted driving accounted for 20% of all crashes involving an injury and caused over 5,000 deaths in 2009. With such a high amount of pedestrian foot traffic in the city of Richmond it is important to limit distractions while driving. This includes cognitive distractions such as headphones.

The penalty for violating the statute barring the use of headphones while operating a motor vehicle is not steep. It is a $25.00 fine with $51.00 in court costs. Va. Supreme ct. rule 3B:2. However, this type of distracted driving could have consequences far beyond monetary forfeiture. See this case. The bottom line is that operating a motor vehicle while wearing headphones is against the law for a very good reason: to protect others on the road, and ensure the efficient delivery of emergency services.

— Ross Charles Allen

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