The Free Press, Mankato, MN

March 24, 2011

ASK A TROOPER: DWH (driving while headphoned) is illegal

Free Press Staff Writer


by Sgt. Jacalyn Sticha

March 9, 2011

Q; A young man flew through a red light and almost hit me.  Many of us were honking our horns and he never even noticed – it looked like he was listening to his MP3 and had ear pieces in both ears.  Isn’t this illegal?

A: Yes, it is illegal.  The danger is great having this young man's hearing blocked while driving; he would not have heard an emergency vehicle either.  With, I am assuming, loud music in both ears he cannot hear any warning devices and he is incredibly distracted. Double trouble - there is a lot going on with this driver that is not driving. Distraction is responsible for 1/3 of all crashes.

MSS169.471 Subd. 2 is clear, “No person, while operating a motor vehicle, shall wear headphones or earphones that are used in both ears simultaneously for …broadcasts … radios, tape decks, or other sound – producing … devices.” Keep in mind hearing aid devices for persons who need them are exempt.

I would like to share the first subdivision of this statute being we are in the vicinity, MSS169.471 Subd. 1, “No television screen shall be installed or used in any motor vehicle where images from the screen are visible to the driver while operating the motor vehicle…”  All the video enjoyment by the kids in the back seat needs to stay with those in the backseat.

Devices that assist the driver to view the front, rear and sides of their vehicle are exempt as well as devices that are part of the vehicle control system or used in intelligent vehicle highway applications.

Q:  Is having a device to override the signals [traffic lights/semaphores] illegal or is just using it illegal?  

A: It is illegal to have such a device in your vehicle, even if not using it, and it is a misdemeanor - a pretty big deal [MSS169.06].  For those who do not know, this is a device that emergency vehicles use when approaching an intersection to have the light change to or remain green.  This allows emergency vehicles through intersections with greater ease, without solely relying on lights and siren - which can be very precarious.   

Other vehicles are allowed use of an override device:  light rail, rapid bus transit services and rail vehicles.  These devices should not be in private vehicles and they should be reported if discovered.  Safety is always of great concern at intersections and this helps elevate some risk.