If you’ve ever felt the temptation to slip on a pair of headphones while driving, you’re not alone. After all, the car is one of the few places on earth where you can indulge some guilty pleasures in comfort and security.

Jamming along to Frank Sinatra’s My Way could get you killed in public. But in the privacy of a car, you’re welcome to croon along to Ol’ Blue Eyes while cruising down the highway.

As far as the law is concerned, however, driving while wearing headphones should be approached with some caution. The article below lays out the rules, which are more or less consistent across every Australian state.

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A young couple standing by a car while the man wears headphones - is it illegal to wear headphones while driving is a good question

Is it illegal to drive with headphones in Australia?

The short answer is no. There’s no law against driving while wearing headphones. But as headphones are usually connected to some external device, like a mobile phone, other laws can apply.

In the case your headphones aren’t plugged into anything, you’re not in any trouble. As a simple fashion accessory, headphones pose no inherent danger. In a sense, they’re just like contact lenses or clothing; simply having them on your person is not a punishable offense.

Is driving with headphones distracted driving?

While driving with headphones is legal, driving while distracted and driving with a mobile phone are not. Distracted driving is one of the biggest dangers on the road. In New South Wales it falls under NSW Road Rule 297(1) which says drivers must have proper control of their vehicle. Other states have similar laws.

“Proper control” is a vague term and could involve many things, including listening to music. If your tunes make you miss important signals, like a police siren, authorities see your headphones as a distraction. In this case, you could be fined.

In the event you’re pulled over, it’s a good idea to take headphones off before talking to police. Nothing smacks of “reckless driver” more than rolling down your window with headphones on.

Is it illegal to drive with headphones attached to a mobile phone?

Maybe. Fully licensed drivers can use a phone in a cradle, so wearing headphones plugged into that phone is legal. But learner and probationary drivers can’t use a phone for any reason, anywhere in Australia. That means driving with headphones plugged into a mobile phone is illegal for them.

 

Is it illegal to drive with Bluetooth headphones?

Maybe. Driving with wireless headphones of any type should be legal for fully licensed drivers, as long as they don’t touch their phone. But L and P platers could be considered to be using a mobile phone if they’re streaming music from it to a pair of Bluetooth headphones, which would be illegal.

This is a murky area though. Bluetooth headphones are a standard for new iPhones, and so have become way more common. Whether this is considered using a mobile phone is a question that hasn’t been tested yet, and it could still be considered distracted driving. Just because it’s technically legal doesn’t mean you’ll get off scot-free, especially if you’re wearing them in an accident.

Is it a good idea to wear headphones while driving?

With the actual laws out of the way, let’s consider if wearing headphones while driving is a good idea, even when it’s legal. The truth is, it’s not a great habit.

Here are some reasons why you might want to drive without headphones:

  • Sound blocking. If music is blasting inside both of your ears, you might not hear horns and sirens outside the car. This could lead to a serious mistake, like turning into the path of another vehicle. Even if you’re driving properly, your ability to hear could stop an accident someone else might cause. You can mitigate this by using headphones on just one ear, so the other is free to hear the surroundings. But this is only a partial fix.
  • Divided awareness. New evidence shows multitasking doesn’t exist. Rather, your attention is divided evenly for every job you’re doing at once. Singing along to songs in your head takes your focus off the road in front of you, which can lead to distracted driving.
  • It’s not necessary. The luxury of playing music in your car is great! But you don’t need headphones to enjoy it. Instead of wearing headphones, you could turn on the radio or use your car’s Bluetooth system, if it has one. And yes, almost every GoGet car has Bluetooth audio, from our hatchbacks, to our vans, to our convertibles! So our members never need wear headphones while driving.

Summary

Yes, it is legal to drive with headphones in Australia. But if police determine it was a source of distraction, or if you’re using it with a mobile phone, you could be fined. As a safety precaution, avoid using headphones inside the car if possible.

  

This post shouldn’t be regarded as legal advice. Check that this information applies to your circumstances by speaking with your local road authority.

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