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Ask a Trooper: Can I wear headphones while driving?

Q: Is it legal to wear earplugs or headphones driving a vehicle in Minnesota? Does the decibel rating matter?

A: State statute says that no person, while operating a motor vehicle, shall wear headphones or earphones that are used in both ears simultaneously for purposes of receiving or listening to broadcasts or reproductions from radios, tape decks or other sound-producing or transmitting devices.

So the answer is no, a person cannot wear headphones while driving and that includes operating a motorcycle with a few exceptions:

  • The use of a hearing aid device by a person who needs the device.
  • The use of a communication headset by a firefighter while operating a fire department emergency vehicle in response to an emergency.
  • The use of a communication headset by an emergency medical services person while operating an ambulance.

As far as earplugs, they are legal as long as they are not sound producing.

It is very important for the driver to be aware and alert to everything that is going on around them. Listening to music with headphones while driving can block out an emergency vehicle’s siren, or another vehicle’s horn and it could cause a crash or reduce the response time for an emergency vehicle. Emergency vehicles are equipped with lights and sirens to warn others when responding to an emergency. Being able hear a siren and see emergency lights, in a timely manner, will enable the driver to safety pull over and yield for approaching emergency vehicles.

A hands free device, like a Bluetooth earpiece, would be legal because it is only used in one ear.

Bicyclists and pedestrians can legally wear the headphones, but please think about your safety on what you are not hearing as you are navigating in or near motorized traffic.

Another safety concern would be having music too loud inside a vehicle where the driver is unable to safely hear.

Remember to avoid all distractions while driving as your life and others depend on it.

A portion of state statutes were used with permission from the Office of the Revisor of Statutes. Send your questions concerning traffic related laws or issues in Minnesota to trooper@duluthnews.com or Sgt. Neil Dickenson – Minnesota State Patrol at 1131 Mesaba Ave, Duluth, MN 55811. You can follow him on Twitter @MSPPIO_NE or reach him at neil.dickenson@state.mn.us.

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