This driving tip comes to us courtesy of an Alaskan driver I saw tootling around Highway 522 late last month. I gave a quick beep and informed him that wearing headphones over both ears while driving was illegal in Washington.

After the obligatory Navy-to-Marine question of: “Did you enjoy your Navy paycheck?”, I let him know about the aforementioned law. Then he asked, “seriously?”

Yes, my Marine friend, it’s illegal, here’s how.

The law in question, RCW 46.37.480, concerns television viewers and screens, or “other means of receiving television broadcast when the moving images are visible to the driver…”, though doesn’t include monitors used for backup cameras.

The law also goes on to state no driver can legally operate any motor vehicle while wearing headphones.

“No person shall operate any motor vehicle on a public highway while wearing any headset or earphones connected to any electronic device capable of receiving a radio broadcast or playing a sound recording for the purpose of transmitting a sound to the human auditory senses and which headset or earphones muffle or exclude other sounds,” RCW 46.37.480 states.

I can already hear the uproar, now, though: “What about my hands-free Bluetooth?”

Well, there’s an amendment to that.

According to WAC 204-10-045, a hands-free phone device may be used by motorists so long as the device is only in one ear and it complies with RCW 46.61.667, which regulates the use of a cell phone while driving. 

So, yes, under RCW 46.37.480, it is absolutely illegal to be driving around in Washington State with your headphones in both ears; though using speakerphone, a headset using only one earbud or a single-ear earpiece is completely legal.

So, Mr. Marine friend from Alaska, there you go. While tootling around in Washington State, beware of your headphone use!