Sound decisions

Hey! Hey, you, driving obliviously with your headphones on! We know you can’t hear us over your music or podcast or phone call or whatever. But since you’re—hopefully—not currently driving, take a minute and listen.

Let's start by acknowledging that, of course, driving with headphones on isn't new problem. People have done it since the early days of the Walkman some 40 years ago. However, it's become a bigger and bigger issue as we've been given additional and even easier devices with which to use headphones—mp3 players, iPods and now smart phones with streaming music services.

Still, driving with headphones on in Nevada isn't illegal. But driving with headphones on can be as egregious as other driving distractions—whether it's eating a meal on the run, or receiving texts and social media notifications, or caving to the temptation to retouch makeup.

The counterargument is that since deaf people are allowed to drive, it would be discriminatory against the hearing-impaired to outlaw wearing headphones while driving. Yes, and to a certain point, we agree. Listening to music on headphones while driving doesn't create the same immediate dangers as driving while drunk or driving while texting. And we recognize that listening to music while driving can be one of life's great pleasures. However, listening to headphones while operating a vehicle isn't the same thing as operating a vehicle in silence, without the ability to hear anything.

According to research from the University of Toledo in Ohio, some scientists speculate that music may have the power to dampen your ability to see. Their research focused on the potential dangers of listening to music while doing activities ranging from jogging to biking to driving. Psychologist Diana Deutsch, Ph.D., from the University of California at San Diego told the researchers, “The tempo can interfere with the rate at which your brain perceives images that are passing by you, which could trip you up.”

And when you ride a motorcycle, forget it. You're at a statistically higher risk of injury and death than those driving vehicles on four wheels. And the slightest noises can pull your attention to the right or left—and where your attention goes, your bike goes.

In some states, it's already illegal to drive with headphones in or on your ears. In others, it's illegal to have headphones in both ears. As previously mentioned, here in Nevada, there's no law at all. But that doesn't mean it can't still get you in legal trouble. That's because even if you're doing something that's within the bounds of the law—like driving and using headphones or eating—those behaviors can still lead to a distracted driving accident for which you're likely to be liable.