Am I allowed to wear headphones while driving?

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Headphones of all sizes, from a small button to a well-padded DJ piece, are standard on the road, whether you are a cyclist, pedestrian, or driver.

But what is the legal situation? Are you permitted to wear them, mainly when operating a vehicle or a motorcycle? According to ÖAMTC lawyer Martin Hoffer, the answer is “yes.” But there is a “but.”

Because: there are no legal restrictions on headphones, neither for pedestrians nor cyclists or car drivers. Even special headphones with noise-cancelling technology – which reduces outside noise or blocks it out completely – are permitted. “However, this does not automatically mean that wearing them cannot be punished if the worst comes to the worst,” says the ÖAMTC lawyer.

This is because the StVO stipulates that vehicle drivers must be physically and mentally capable of controlling their vehicles and complying with the legal regulations that must be observed. Wearing headphones may well be considered a violation of this provision. Says Hoffer, “Headphones imply a deficiency in perceptual ability that must be compensated for.”

It is also true that participating in road traffic requires constant caution and mutual consideration. The wearer may even be partially responsible if an accident occurs due to headphones. In the event, experts will clarify whether an accident could have been avoided if headphones had not been worn.

Practical experience shows that headphones significantly increase the risk of accidents. When necessary acoustic warning signals, such as truck reversing warning beeps, railroad crossing bells, horns, whistles, follow-tone horns, and other noises, are mixed with music or conversations playing through headphones, the wearer’s sense of hearing is not able to warn them of impending dangers in time. And delayed perception leads to prolonged reaction time. This means there is a risk of overhearing or overlooking important information from the surroundings. Because of this, you frequently hear an approaching vehicle before you see it.

Hoffer says that if you’re already wearing headphones, you need to be even more attentive: “You shouldn’t wear them in situations where you need to be fully alert. At railroad crossings, for example. And if you wear them, you have to – in short – look just three times as well.” However, the lack of processing of acoustic information harbours yet another potential risk: The lack of attention can also lead to unpredictable actions – such as suddenly crossing a road.

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