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Is it Legal to Wear Earbuds While Driving in New Jersey?

We see many headlines about how New Jersey lawmakers are trying to combat distracted driving in the Garden State. Although most of the proposals are useful in theory, they raise questions about enforceability and how necessary and effective the measures would be. This discussion has many residents confused about the legality of behaviors they have taken for granted, such as wearing earbuds while driving. A recent article in attempted to clarify the issue by speaking to Sgt. Jeff Flynn, a New Jersey State Police spokesman.

Sgt. Flynn said that earbuds are legal under New Jersey law because they constitute a hands-free device. However, he recommends leaving one ear free to pick up clues from traffic, such as a car horn. A person who is listening to loud music and therefore cannot hear a car horn could be cited if his failure to hear the horn led to an accident.

This discussion prompted a comment from a reader that needs to be addressed:

“But, you can get a NJ driver’s license if you are deaf. What is the difference between listening to music with both ears and not being able to hear anything with both ears?”

The difference is two-fold. First, the deaf person is not distracted by the music, so his attention is not being taken off the task of driving. Although the deaf person cannot hear the horn, he might pick up on other visual cues the distracted driver is not catching. Many deaf drivers use panoramic mirrors to give them a greater field of vision. And, in fact, there are devices for deaf drivers that give a visual cue when a siren or car horn sounds in the vicinity.

The second point is that a citation for careless driving and liability for an accident are based on a reasonable person standard. Is it reasonable for a driver who can hear to obliterate his hearing, making it impossible to pick up on sound cues that might alert him to danger? Certainly not.

If you are in an auto accident caused by a person wearing earbuds, it would be very helpful to know the volume setting at the time of the crash. An excessive volume could help you prove negligence, which is an important element in establishing liability. Getting that information can be difficult, because police are not authorized to confiscate a cellphone after an accident. However, if they were able to observe, from their proximity to the driver, how loudly the music was blaring, that testimony could be very helpful to your case.

If you are injured in a pedestrian accident in Bergen County or anywhere in New Jersey, Seigel Law is ready to help. Contact us online or call 201.444.4000 today for a free consultation and case evaluation.

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