Don’t drive wearing headphones

Most folks in the MacBU have an iPod of one sort of another. In the last month or two I've gotten into countless discussions (well, OK, not countless, but more than one) with otherwise intelligent coworkers about the dangers of driving with headphones.

They tend to make arguments about headphones being no more distracting than the car's sound system, or they go down the smart aleck “should we stop the deaf from driving?” path.

I'm tired of this whole topic, but would like to point out some things:

  • It is illegal to drive with headphones in California, and apparently in most other states as well:
    • 27400.   ( )1 A person operating a motor vehicle or bicycle may not wear a headset covering, or earplugs in, both ears
  • Deaf folks may in fact have worse driving records
  • Yes, I realize that not every law makes sense, and that no one obeys the speed limit, but this particular law makes lots of sense
  • Yes, I agree that people talking on their cell phones, reading the paper, applying makeup, shaving, or eating are also a danger, but that has nothing to do with this issue.
  • So please, go out and spend the few measly dollars on an adapter for your car. If you are as stingy as me, you can get a tape adapter for around a buck on e-bay. Or if you are really pig headed, at least pull one of the earplugs out. And spare me the sob story about the horrific sound degradation you will have to suffer. After all, your car isn’t a concert hall.
  • Interestingly, you can rat on unsafe California drivers if you want the DMV to reevaluate their ability to drive safely, but efore you get too excited about drowning your foes in complaints, you can't do it anonymously unless they are in your immediate family. On a closing tangent, I'd be interested to see the statistics about how many of these requests the DMV gets, and how they breakdown. While we are off on a tangent, I'd also like to know more about the smarmily-named 764-HERO program in Washington State which encourages folks to call in and snitch when they see carpool lane violations. On the one hand, I never cheat in the carpool lane, and my road rage boils away when I see people do it, but on the other hand I find the idea of encouraging citizens to snitch on each other deeply distasteful. There are some interesting stats from a few years ago at the official site linked above and in this newspaper article, which also explains that a call won’t result in anyone getting a ticket, but they don't tell you much about the effectiveness of the program. Oh well, one more thing to add to the "Look into when I've caught up on absolutely everything else, including but not limited to cleaning the garage, learning to play a musical instrument, reading all the books on my booklist, working through the netflix queue and catching up on sleep" file.


Comments (7)

  1. Brendan says:

    Yea… I’m rather glad I don’t live in California. Here in South Dakota, we have slightly more intelligent laws… normally, after all here a congressman can kill a man and spend only 100 days in jail.

    I have a 45 min commute each day in which I drive 55 miles each way and my iPod helps me gear up in the morning and wind down in the evening.

    Sound quality aside, I would love to have a headphone-less method to listen to my iPod while on the road, and I’m sure the occasional passenger would as well, however you’re making the assumption that a cheap solution exists to adapt ones player to their deck… mine does not have a cassette player nor an AUX input. Add to that the fact that my iTrip is grossly under powered for what is needed to hold a single station (here at least) over such a distance. For a few more dollars one could wait for the Alpine iPod adapter setup to be released… but that’d cost a min of $300.

    Or… I can continue to be aware of my surroundings while on the road and remain very aware of the cars around me. If only deer were so easy to be aware of.

  2. gilg says:

    Turns out it is legal in South Dakota: I still think it is a really bad idea. There is just so much attention that a person has to give, and listening to music on headphones is an immersive experience that robs attention from driving, easily overcoming any conscious effort on the driver’s part to "be aware of my surroundings."

    I don’t quite follow why the iTrip (or other mini FM transmitters) won’t work for you. Can you explain?

  3. Steve Hiner says:

    "no one obeys the speed limit"

    Not true. :-}

    Yes, people get mad at me – especially when I’m in California – but I always stay in the right lane.

  4. Brendan says:

    I should have mentioned in my earlier post that I have verified through police on several occasions if headphones were against the law here.

    As for why the iTrip doesn’t work well for me… when you scan through your radio, you’ll find a number of clear stations with good broadcasts, some with scratchy low quality ones (but still perhaps listenable), others where you know something is there but not strong enough to be clear, and finally (relatively) empty air. Given where you are, the content of different frequencies will change.

    As yet I’ve been unable to find a single station that I can broadcast to in the clear through out my entire commute, no matter where I turn eventually I will have another signal intruding to the point that I can no longer hear my own broadcast.

    I have given serious thought to using some sort of amplifier to boost the signal power, so that I could not only broadcast further but also beat out slightly stronger signals in the area of my car… however this would cost more than I want to spend for such a solution and would of course be illegal as well.

    I must still disagree with you when you say it is a bad idea. I agree, listening to music or anything else for that matter can be an immersive experience and distraction. The same can occur when you listen to someone on the phone, listen to the radio or even a person next to you, regardless of where your eyes are looking.

    Singling out stereo headphones for music seems rather pointless to me as it is a rather minor distraction, especially when there are far worse and more effective

    You’ll forgive me… but I find it odd that you concentrate on the distraction provided by headphones when they provide a very similar experience to a car radio or CD player… which as far as I know are not illegal to use anywhere in the country (provided you aren’t watching a DVD on it (except for Alaska). Wouldn’t it be better to rally against any audible distraction?

    I’m guessing that your main problem is then that they prevent you from hearing road noises… While it is illegal in many states to listen to headphones because they may distract you, it is not (yet) illegal to have your car stereo so loud that you cannot hear road noises, or even to own or drive car that well insulates you from said noises.

  5. This is from the same person who NEVER turns off his cell phone on flights 🙁

  6. gilg says:

    Brendan, I agree that you could play your car stereo loud enough to be as distracting as headphones, but that isn’t really my point. I believe that at the same volume headphones are more distracting than a car stereo. So if you take a person who normally listens to the radio at a volume that isn’t overly distracting, and then give them an iPod and have them listen through headphones at the same volume, they will have less attention focused on driving. I also agree that the cell phone talkers and the easily distractible need some rallying, but there is only so much I can do…

    If I read the iTrip blurbs correctly, you can use any of the ~200 available FM stations. What is causing interference in all of them in a 55 mile path in South Dakota, which isn’t our most densely populated state?

    Dennis, buddy old pal, you are remembering the past. It is true that when the FAA/FCC started scaring people into turning off their cell phones in flight I was very skeptical, and still am. After all, the rules are based on old science, and people on at least one of the 9/11 flights used their phones without bringing down the plane, and some airlines are now rolling out wi-fi, and researches have tried for years, unsuccessfully, to duplicate a situation where a phone caused real interference. I admit that I didn’t turn my cell phone off on more than one occasion in the past, but I decided to take one for the team a long time ago, and now dutifully turn off cell phones along with everyone else.

Skip to main content