It may seem harmless to listen to your favorite song or podcast via your personal headset while driving or riding your bike. After all, your hands are still on the wheel/handlebars and your eyes are on the road. It can even seem like a safe, hands-free alternative to talking on your cell phone while operating a vehicle. Unfortunately, Chapter 316.304 of the Florida Statutes make the “wearing of headsets, headphones, or other listening device” while operating a vehicle illegal.
Learn what this law entails before hitting the road to protect yourself from legal trouble.
Details of the Florida Headphone Law
Driver distraction is one of the leading causes of car accidents around the country. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, distracted driving injured 319,000 and killed 3,477 people in 2015. Listening to music or using a headset to talk may not seem as dangerous as other forms of distraction, such as texting and driving, but, if the headset interferes with a driver’s ability to hear his/her surroundings, it can be. Headset use can make it impossible to hear car horns, shouts, or vehicles approaching you – putting you at risk of an accident.
According to Florida law, you cannot listen to anything using ear buds, headphones, or headsets while driving a vehicle or riding a bicycle. The rule does not apply to hearing aids or instruments used to enhance human hearing. You can, however, use a headset in conjunction with a cell phone, as long as you only wear the headset in one ear only. Your other ear must be able to hear the sounds around you while you drive or bike. If you operate a motorcycle and have a helmet with a headset already installed, you can use the headset. However, you must wear it in a way that the speakers do not make direct contact with your ears, so that you can hear surrounding noises.
The law does not apply to law enforcement officers with job-related communication devices, applicants for motorcycle licenses while taking the exam, and any person who uses a headset in conjunction with a central base operation (as long as it only provides sound through one ear). The Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV) has administrative power over the specifications regarding headset equipment Chapter 316 permits while driving. If officers submit certain headsets for review, the DHSMV can inspect it and publish it on a list of approved equipment or state it does not approve the item.
Your Bicycle as a Motor Vehicle
In Florida, a bicycle is legally a “vehicle.” Bicyclists have all the same rights, duties, and responsibilities as motor vehicle drivers. They must obey all the same traffic laws, including Chapter 316 of the Florida Statutes. Bicyclists may only use headsets if they cover one ear and if the other ear can hear surrounding sounds. Chapter 316.304 states that “a bicyclist may not wear a headset, headphones, or other listening device while operating the bicycle.” The law comes with the same stipulations and exceptions as explained above for motor vehicle operators.
Surrounding noises contribute to a bicyclist’s safety on Miami’s busy roadways. A bicyclist should be able to hear the noises of traffic, other bikers, and pedestrians around them to prevent an accident.
For example, say a vehicle ran a red light and illegally entered an intersection. The surrounding drivers may honk their horns and shout at the driver to prevent a collision. A biker listening to music with both ears might not hear this commotion and bike straight into the oncoming red light runner.
Violating Florida’s headphone laws while driving or cycling is a noncriminal traffic infraction, punishable with the same consequences as other nonmoving violations. It could result in fines of $15, $30, or greater depending on the circumstances. If you contribute to an accident because you were breaking the headphone law, you may find yourself liable for the other party’s damages. If the latter occurs, contact our Miami car accident attorneys for immediate legal advice during a free consultation.