Is It Illegal to Wear Headphones Behind the Wheel in Seattle?

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For most Americans, driving is a part of everyday life. However, even the most experienced motorists face an imminent risk when they let their attention wander. While many studies have investigated the startling effects of mobile use on driver cognition, distractions aren’t always handheld. AirPods, headphones, and even earplugs pose a significant source of hindrance, making it all the more difficult for drivers to stay safe amidst traffic. 

Why You Can’t Wear Headphones and Drive Why you can't wear headphones and drive in Washington

Washington state law explicitly prohibits motorists from using many hands-free audio devices.

According to the Revised Code of Washington, no person shall use any electronic device capable of receiving radio broadcasts or playing recordings if such a device can muffle or exclude other sounds. This includes: 

  • Earphones 
  • Headsets 
  • AirPods 

State law also prohibits the use of earplugs while driving, with some exceptions for student drivers, driving instructors, and motorcyclists.  

Modern headsets and earphones often include noise-canceling and other muffling features. 

While noise-canceling headphones can help tune out unwanted background noise, they pose a potent danger to motorists. Since earbuds and other audio devices can drown out ambient noise, drivers may not be able to hear sirens and other critical sounds, increasing their risk of being involved in a potentially life-altering accident

How Headphone Use Could Constitute Negligence 

Every Washington motorist has a duty of care. In other words, they have a legal responsibility to operate their vehicle in a safe and reasonable manner. Under most circumstances, this means making an active effort to avoid actions and maneuvers that could increase their risk of causing an accident. 

As noise-dampening headphones can make it more difficult for motorists to assess impending hazards, any driver who causes an accident while wearing a prohibited audio device could be found liable for negligence. 

Under Washington state law, accident victims have a legal right to obtain compensation from the person or party who caused their motor vehicle-related injuries

Establishing Negligence After a Seattle-Area Car Accident 

Earphone use could constitute negligence under Washington state law if the motorist’s use of a prohibited audio device directly caused or contributed to the accident. However, proving negligence can be difficult. Before obtaining compensation, you’ll have to provide evidence of the following elements of every personal injury claim

  1. Duty of Care. Almost everyone operating a motor vehicle on a Washington public road has a legal duty of care toward their fellow motorists. Under most circumstances, this duty obligates drivers to obey the law and act reasonably. 
  2. Breach of Duty of Care. A motorist breaches their duty of care by acting negligently. Since state law prohibits using noise-canceling and audio-muffling headphones while driving, an individual who causes an accident while listening to these devices could be liable for the costs of any resulting crash. 
  3. Causation. Simply establishing that a driver breached their duty of care isn’t sufficient to recover damages in a Washington car crash claim. You must also be able to demonstrate that the at-fault motorist’s abrogation of their duty of care directly caused or contributed to the accident. 
  4. Damages. An Evergreen State court can only award compensation if the accident resulted in actual damages. Washington recognizes several categories of damages, which can reimburse accident victims for their medical expenses, emotional pain and suffering, and other losses. 

Since headphone use could constitute a breach of a driver’s duty of care, you should immediately contact an attorney if you believe that the motorist who caused your accident-related injuries was distracted by an audio device of any kind.

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