Headsets or Earphones While Driving on a California Roadway
Vehicle Code 27400

California Vehicle Code 27400 applies to both drivers of vehicles and persons riding bicycles. The section states that both persons cannot wear headsets and/or earplugs – while operating a vehicle or bike – if they cover, rest on, or are inserted into both ears.

There are four important points to know about VC 27400

  • A person violating Vehicle Code 27400 receives a fine of $197.00.
  • A violator of this code section also receives one point on his DMV driving record. A person risks getting a negligent operator license suspension if he gets 4 points in 12 months, 6 points in 24 months or 8 points in 36 months.
  • A person can always challenge a ticket for violating Vehicle Code 27400 by raising a legal defense. But, it's in that person's best interest to seek the help of an experienced defense attorney.
  • Drivers and bikers cannot ignore violations of VC 27400. Ignorance of traffic tickets in California can result in an additional charge of failure to appear, per California Vehicle Code 40508, which can be charged as a misdemeanor.

In the article below, our California personal injury attorneys will address:

man wearing headphones while driving - illegal in california - attorneys
California Vehicle Code 27400 states that drivers of vehicles, and bicycle riders, are prohibited from wearing headsets and earplugs that cover, rest on, or are inserted into both ears

1. Vehicle Code 27400 VC – The use of headsets and earplugs while driving/biking

California Vehicle Code 27400 states that drivers of vehicles, and bicycle riders, are prohibited from wearing headsets and earplugs that cover, rest on, or are inserted into both ears.1

The section provides five exceptions to the general rule. The above prohibition does not apply to:

  1. A person operating an authorized emergency vehicle;
  2. A person operating either special construction equipment or equipment used in the maintenance of a highway;
  3. A person engaged in the operation of refuse collection equipment who is wearing a safety headset or safety earplugs;
  4. A person wearing personal hearing protectors in the form of earplugs or molds that are specifically designed to lessen dangerous noise levels; and,
  5. A person using a hearing aid.2

Please note that the above rule applies to both vehicle drivers and bikers.

Further, the rule applies even if a driver or biker is not playing any music or sound through his headset or earplugs. The simple act of these devices covering, resting on, or inserted into both ears is enough to violate VC 27400.

Note also that the language in Vehicle Code 27400 mentions both ears. Technically, a driver or biker can wear one earplug, or cover one ear with a headset, and not violate VC 27400.

2. Penalties for wearing headsets or earplugs while driving or biking

A driver or biker that violates Vehicle Code 27400 receives two penalties. These are:

  1. A fine; and,
  2. Points assessed on that person's California State driving record.

2.1. A fine

A person that drives or bikes with earplugs is issued a ticket and must pay an underlying fine.

The amount of the fine is $197.00.

2.2. Points assessed on a violator's driving record

Motorists or bikers that violate Vehicle Code 27400 VC receive one point on their DMV driving record.3 Points assessed on a person's record are reported to their insurance carrier. The result is usually an increase in the person's insurance rates for several years.

If a person accumulates a certain number of points within a 1-, 2- or 3-year period in California, the DMV can declare that person a negligent operator. If this is done, the DMV can suspend or even revoke that person's driving privileges. Either action requires a California DMV hearing.

3. Legal defenses to violations of Vehicle Code 27400 VC

A person can always try to challenge a ticket for a VC 27400 violation. He can attempt this by raising a legal defense on his behalf. If a driver or biker chooses to do so, however, it's critical that he contact an experienced attorney for help.

3.1. Common defenses for driving with headphones or earplugs

There are three common defenses for violating Vehicle Code 27400. These are:

  1. The driver or biker is exempted from the general prohibition on wearing earplugs because he falls into one of the exceptions listed in VC 27400 (a)-(e);
  2. The driver or biker only had an earplug or a headphone in one ear and not two; and,
  3. The driver or biker may have had headphones or earplugs in both ears, but he was not actually operating a vehicle or pedaling a bicycle.

The best legal defenses are those with strong evidence supporting them. Strong evidence is typically found in:

  • Witness statements
  • Photographs
  • Surveillance video

3.2. Get the help of an experienced attorney

It's extremely important for persons that violate VC 27400 to consult with a lawyer before challenging a ticket. There are three main reasons why an experienced traffic ticket lawyer can help. These include:

  1. Prosecutors normally give better deals to drivers with lawyers.
  2. Defense attorneys know how to get charge reductions and dismissals.
  3. A person represented by a lawyer does not have to go to court. The person's attorney can go on his behalf.
empty traffic school classroom california legal defense
Persons that receive a ticket for driving/biking while wearing headphones do not have to attend traffic school

4. Violations of Vehicle Code 27400 and traffic school

Persons that receive a ticket for driving/biking while wearing headphones do not have to attend traffic school. But, they can volunteer to do so.

If a person elects to attend traffic school, he still must pay his fine.4 However, the person typically does not get any points on his DMV driving record if he completes the school.5

In general, persons are eligible for traffic school if they meet three conditions. These are:

  1. The person has a valid driver's license;
  2. The offense occurred while the driver was driving a noncommercial vehicle; and,
  3. The ticket is for an infraction that is a moving violation.

5. Headphone/earplug violations and criminal charges

Wearing headphones or earplugs while driving/biking does not result in criminal charges. This is because it's not a crime in California if a person violates VC 27400.

Violations of Vehicle Code 27400 VC are infractions under California law. As such, violators are not subject to incarceration or other criminal penalties.

6. Ignoring a ticket for violating Vehicle Code 27400 VC

Drivers and bikers cannot ignore a ticket for wearing headphones or earplugs. Two things happen if a California traffic ticket is ignored. These include:

  1. The person ignoring the ticket violates California Vehicle Code 40508 VC, for the failure to appear in court on a traffic citation; and,
  2. The person may receive penalties for violating this law.

6.1. Violation of Vehicle Code 40508 VC

Upon receiving a traffic ticket in California, the offender must sign a written promise to appear in court. The person promises to appear in court at a certain time and place (given that he is not represented by an attorney – please see 3.2 above).

If the driver willfully fails to appear as promised, he violates Vehicle Code 40508 VC.6 The driver willfully fails to appear when he is a no-show. It's not even a defense if the person did not intend to break the law.7

It also does not matter whether the driver or biker is guilty or innocent of the underlying traffic citation.8 He violates Vehicle Code 40508 VC just by breaking a promise to:

  • Appear in court,
  • Appear to pay bail,
  • Pay bail in installments,
  • Pay a fine within the time authorized, or
  • Comply with any condition of the court.9

6.2. Penalties for violating VC 40508

A violation of Vehicle Code 40508 VC is a misdemeanor. The penalties are:

  • Up to six months in county jail, and/or
  • A fine of up to $1,000.10

7. Wearing headsets or earplugs and the effect on a personal injury lawsuit

A driver or biker that violates VC 27400 may cause an accident that injures another party. If the injured person later files a personal injury lawsuit against the driver or biker, the driver or biker may be found "negligent."

California law defines "negligence" as the failure to use reasonable care to prevent harm to oneself or to others. In regard to a personal injury case, negligent persons are considered at fault for any injuries. Further, they may have to pay for any damages caused.

Proving negligence in a personal injury case can sometimes be difficult. In California though, a driver is considered "negligent per se" if he violates a statute.

Negligence “per se” is a legal theory in which negligence is presumed based upon a defendant's violation of a statute or ordinance

This means a driver or biker would be negligent per se for causing an accident while wearing headphones or earplugs. This is because that person would be in violation of Vehicle Code 27400.

Please note, however, that even if a person is negligent per se, he may still be able to recover for any damages he incurs. This is because of California's comparative fault laws.

8. Laws related to Vehicle Code 27400 VC.

There are three laws related to VC 27400. These are:

  1. Cell phone and handheld device violations;
  2. Operation of a motor vehicle that contains an unauthorized video screen; and,
  3. Coasting in neutral on downgrades.
cell phone driving illegal california legal defense attorneys
With limited exceptions, motorists cannot talk on a cell phone, or text, when driving in California.

8.1 Cell phone and handheld device violations

California Vehicle Code Sections 23123 and 23123.5 provide the laws on a motorist's use of cell phones and handheld devices while driving on California roadways.

With limited exceptions, motorists cannot talk on a cell phone, or text, when driving in California.

8.1.1. Cell phone violations

California Vehicle Code 23123 VC states:

A person shall not drive a motor vehicle while using a wireless telephone unless that telephone is specifically designed and configured to allow hands-free listening and talking, and is used in that manner while driving.11

VC 23123 provides four exceptions to the basic law. The section doesn't apply to:

  1. "a person using a wireless telephone for emergency purposes, including, but not limited to, an emergency call to a law enforcement agency, health care provider, fire department, or other emergency services agency or entity"12;
  2. "an emergency services professional using a wireless telephone while operating an authorized emergency vehicle"13;
  3. "a person driving a school bus or transit vehicle"14; and,
  4. "a person while driving a motor vehicle on private property"15.

A violation of VC 23123 results in a base fine of $20 for a first offense and $50 for each subsequent offense.16

Please note the above dollar amounts are the base fines. The actual amount of a ticket will be significantly greater because of fees and assessments.

8.1.2. Texting violations

California Vehicle 23123.5 VC states:

A person shall not drive a motor vehicle while holding and operating a handheld wireless telephone or an electronic wireless communications device unless the wireless telephone or electronic wireless communications device is specifically designed and configured to allow voice-operated and hands-free operation, and it is used in that manner while driving.17

An "electronic wireless communications device" includes, but is not limited to, a broadband personal communication device, a handheld device or laptop computer, and a pager.18

Vehicle Code 23123.5 provides two exceptions. The section doesn't apply to:

  1. "manufacturer-installed systems that are embedded in the vehicle"19; and,
  2. "an emergency services professional using an electronic wireless communications device while operating an authorized emergency vehicle"20

The penalties for violating 23123.5 are a base fine of $20 for a first offense and $50 for each subsequent offense.21

As with VC 23123, please note the above dollar amounts are the base fines. The actual amount of a ticket will be significantly greater because of fees and assessments.

8.2. Operation of a motor vehicle that contains an unauthorized video screen

Under Vehicle Code 27602, it is unlawful for a person to drive a vehicle if a television receiver, a video monitor, or a television or video screen, is operating and is visible to the driver.[22

Certain equipment is exempted from this law. VC 27602 states that the section does not apply to the following equipment when installed in a vehicle:

  • A vehicle information display;
  • A global positioning display;
  • A mapping display; and,
  • A visual display used to enhance the driver's view to the front, behind, or to the sides of a vehicle.[23

Drivers that violate Vehicle Code 27602 receive two penalties. These are:

  1. A fine of $238.00 and up; and,
  2. One point assessed to their DMV driving record.

8.3 Coasting in neutral on downgrades

Vehicle Code 21710 VC is a simple law that states:

The driver of a motor vehicle when traveling on down grade upon any highway shall not coast with the gears of such vehicle in neutral.24

Violators of VC 21710 receive two penalties. These are:

  1. A fine of $367.00 and up; and,
  2. One point put on their DMV driving record.

Were you accused of wearing a headset or earplugs while driving in California? Call us for help…

california headphones while driving legal defense attorneys
Call us at (855) LAW-FIRM

If you or someone you know has been cited for violating VC 27400, or has been injured in an accident in California, we invite you to contact us for a free consultation. We can be reached 24/7 at 855-LAW-FIRM.

Legal References:

  1. California Vehicle Code 27400 VC.

  2. California Vehicle Code 27400 (a)-(e) VC

  3. See DMV.org.

  4. See California Courts website.

  5. See same.

  6. California Vehicle Code 40508 VC.

  7. CALCRIM 2240, endnote 1: Someone commits an act willfully when he or she does it willingly or on purpose. It is not required that he or she intend to break the law, hurt someone else, or gain any advantage.

  8. See same.

  9. California Vehicle Code 40508 VC.

  10. California Penal Code 19 PC. Except in cases where a different punishment is prescribed by any law of this state, every offense declared to be a misdemeanor is punishable by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding six months, or by fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both.

  11. California Vehicle Code 23123 (a) VC.

  12. California Vehicle Code 23123 (c) VC.

  13. California Vehicle Code 23123 (d) VC.

  14. California Vehicle Code 23123 (e) VC.

  15. California Vehicle Code 23123 (f) VC.

  16. California Vehicle Code 23123 (b) VC.

  17. California Vehicle Code 23123.5 (a) VC.

  18. California Vehicle Code 23123.5 (f) VC.

  19. California Vehicle Code 23123.5 (b) VC.

  20. California Vehicle Code 23123.5 (e) VC.

  21. California Vehicle Code 23123.5 (d) VC.

  22. California Vehicle Code 27602 (a) VC.

  23. California Vehicle Code 27602 (b)(1) – (b)(4).

  24. California Vehicle Code 21710 VC.

Free attorney consultations...

Our attorneys want to hear your side of the story. Contact us 24/7 to schedule a FREE consultation with a criminal defense lawyer. We may be able to get your charges reduced or even dismissed altogether. And if necessary, we will champion your case all the way to trial.

Regain peace of mind...

Shouse Law Defense Group has multiple locations throughout California. Click Office Locations to find out which office is right for you.

Office Locations

Shouse Law Group has multiple locations all across California, Nevada, and Colorado. Click Office Locations to find out which office is right for you.

To contact us, please select your state:

Call us 24/7 (855) 396-0370