Have you ever wondered to what extent wireless Bluetooth earbuds (such as Airpods) can be used while operating a moving vehicle? This past summer, after spending many hours in the car on various road trips, I noticed the occasional driver wearing Airpods while driving. Honestly, I do believe Airpods or wireless Bluetooth earbuds are one of the best technological inventions yet, and come in super handy if you listen to binaural beats while working, grocery shopping and talking to your mom on the phone (no, I am not talking to myself), or exercising without being restricted by a headphone cord. So what if I just leave them in while I hit the road? Isn’t it the same as listening to the radio or talking hands-free? What if I only keep one Airpod in so I can still hear out of the other ear?
What Is A Distraction?
When distracted driving comes to mind, changing music, entering an address, texting, or talking on a hand-held device are common examples. Texting while driving is considered such a serious distraction that North Dakota law prohibits it. N.D.C.C. § 39-08-23. Even eating while driving or waving to someone on the road (I know, we can’t always be North Dakota nice) are considered distractions. Any time you take your mind and eyes off the road and/or your hands off the steering wheel your attention is diverted and you are distracted.
It has been established that multi-tasking while driving is an unsafe distraction. Where does the use of Airpods fit into the criteria of mental or visual multi-tasking? Adjusting the fit or volume of the device, or the device accidentally falling to the floor, may take your hands from the wheel. Using wireless technology may cause a driver to attempt navigating complex touch screens or voice commands to successfully connect to the vehicle’s entertainment system. The noise cancellation feature on the newest version of Airpods would not allow you to properly hear sirens or horns. This feature may also make it difficult to hear warning sounds alerting a driver to a mechanical problem within the vehicle. If you use an Airpod in both ears, does it affect situational awareness to a greater extent since you normally have your sense of hearing and are unaccustomed to noticing the cues needed to function with impaired hearing?
Know Your State
According to North Dakota law, there is no prohibition on wearing Airpods while driving. In Minnesota you are not permitted to wear Airpods, with the exception of hearing aids or communication headsets used by firefighters and emergency medical service personnel. Minn. Stat. § 169.471, subd. 2 (2020). In some states, such as Illinois, you are allowed to wear one Airpod in one ear for telephone communication. 625 ILCS 5/12-610(d) (West 2019). If your trip takes you through several states, be aware of how laws change as you cross state lines.
Is It Worth It?
In 2019 there were 3,142 people killed in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers in America. Even if Airpods are not prohibited in your state, you should consider the risks of using this technology while driving. Don’t leave your Airpod knowledge up in the air – use it to prevent compounding this statistic. This article is for informational purposes only. For related articles on distracted driving, check out our blog.
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