Bone conduction headphones are revolutionary in many ways, allowing improved environmental awareness while listening to your favorite music or podcasts. It lets us carry on with our daily lives almost as if we weren’t wearing headphones. But are they safe to use in all circumstances? For example, can you wear bone conduction headphones while driving?
Bone conduction headphones are technically safe to wear while driving, though some countries and regions prohibit it. These regions restrict the use of any type of headphones or earbuds while driving and make no distinction for bone conduction devices. It could also be unsafe in some cases.
We tend to think of bone conduction headphones as perfectly safe to use while driving or during our morning run, but much of their safety depends on how we use them. Let’s look into the factors that make them safe to use and some reasons to avoid them, or at least be careful when driving with your bone conduction headphones.
Is It Legal To Drive With Bone Conduction Headphones?
Most countries and regions have no laws prohibiting the use of bone conduction headphones while driving. There are a few exceptions, though. In the United States, for example, there are nine states that prohibit the use of any type of headphones or earbuds while driving. They are:
- Rhode Island
Internationally, the police in Barcelona, Spain, is known to fine those who are pulled over for driving while wearing bone conduction headphones.
Even though the law specifically prohibits headphones and earphones that block your ears, there is currently no legal distinction between those and bone conduction headphones.
Why Are Headphones Illegal In These Regions?
Driving with your ears blocked is considered unsafe since it lowers your awareness of the traffic around you. According to injury lawyers Hupy and Abraham, if you are in an accident while wearing any kind of headphones, there’s a higher likelihood that you could be found guilty because you might have been distracted while driving.
But Why Bone Conduction Headphones?
It does not make sense that these countries and states will ban wearing bone conduction headphones since they leave your ears open, and you can still hear the traffic around you. After all, most road marathons ban headphones and earphones, but some still allow bone conduction devices. Shouldn’t the same apply to driving?
There are two problems with this logic:
- According to Hupy and Abraham, the problem is not so much the covering of your ears but has more to do with the distraction of the media you’re listening to, which is still a concern with bone conduction headphones.
- Bone conduction headphones haven’t been commercially available for very long, so there’s no legal distinction between them and regular earphones or headphones at this stage. This could likely change over the coming years, but legislation can take a long time to catch up with technology.
Are Bone Conduction Headphones Safe To Use While Driving?
Regular headphones aim to cancel as much outside noise as possible to give you an optimal listening experience. They do this using passive methods, mainly involving plugging or covering your ears to some extent, and active noise canceling, which electronically cancels out external noise.
These headphones and earphones are unsafe to wear while driving because they limit environmental awareness. You can’t hear the traffic around you as clearly, so you might miss something like a car suddenly braking or blaring a horn near you.
Bone conduction headphones are the exact opposite of that. They don’t cover your ears at all, and there’s no plug to insert into your ear canal, so none of the external sounds are blocked.
Instead, bone conduction headphones send the sound vibrations through your skull bones into your inner ears, where the hair cells in your cochlea release neurotransmitters that send signals to your brain through the auditory nerve, and your brain interprets these signals as sounds.
This means you can comfortably listen to your music, podcasts, or audiobooks in peace without missing out on essential sounds from your environment, making them theoretically safe to use while driving.
The word “theoretically” is the problem here, as there are potential complications that you should be aware of.
The Risks Of Driving With Bone Conduction Headphones
There’s no reason not to wear bone conduction headphones while driving as long as you consider the following risks and adjust your driving and listening habits accordingly.
The Possibility Of Legal Fines
As mentioned, it’s illegal to wear any type of headphones in some regions, so you should confirm this before driving while bearing bone conduction headphones.
Music Could Still Distract You
Listening to music, or anything else, at high volume, could still distract you from the traffic or any sounds from your vehicle that you should be aware of.
Even though our ears are open to environmental sounds, but our brains can still only process so much. When you listen to music at high volume, your brain might start to filter out background noise to the point where you might not notice when there’s something important happening on the road near you.
Have you noticed how people turn down the volume on their car radios when driving and looking for something? It’s a strange habit; it’s not like higher volume directly affects your vision, is it?
Well, it might. According to Men’s Health, high volumes make our brains struggle to prioritize tasks. Turning down the volume on the car radio removes unnecessary distractions so our brains can focus more clearly on the job that’s crucial at the moment.
The same applies to your bone conduction headphones. You should always keep the volume at a level low enough to not interfere with the priorities of driving and being aware of your surroundings. That level won’t be the same for everyone, so play around with different volume settings to find the one that’s perfect for you.
Strange Sounds From Your Music
This is not limited to bone conduction headphones, but it’s still vital enough to mention.
I remember driving with my wife in the passenger seat a few years ago. We were listening to a new album over the car radio, and it was our first time hearing a particular song. As it happened, we were approaching a red light, and the song started with the sounds of blaring sirens and a car crash. My wife and I immediately started panicking and looking around for the accident.
When we didn’t see anything, I eventually restarted the song, and we heard the same thing again, finally realizing the problem.
The fact is, when your ears are uncovered like they are with a car radio or bone conduction headphones, the sounds you hear may seem very real. This could cause distractions and erratic actions. If I was a less experienced driver, I might have slammed on the brakes when I heard the noise and caused a real accident in the process.
Once again, keep the volume low enough not to be distracting.
Bone Conduction Headphones Aren’t Loud
We’ve mentioned keeping the volume low twice now. The problem is that bone conduction headphones, by nature, aren’t very loud because they don’t cover your ears. Noisy environments can drown out your audio, and it’s tempting to increase the volume during these times.
Traffic can get loud sometimes, so bone conduction headphones might not be ideal for listening to music while driving.
Bone conduction headphones are not as safe as most people think they are. The fact that they bypass your outer ears and ear drums doesn’t mean they can’t damage your hearing. In fact, listening at high volumes can harm your cochlea and cause hearing damage.
The problem is that you don’t notice how loud bone conduction headphones are unless you plug your ears, especially in noisy environments, and traffic can be such an environment. So, once again, the advice is not to turn up your volume when passing a loud bus or truck. Keep it at that volume level, or pause the audio until you can hear it again.
Bone conduction headphones can cause vertigo. Though it’s not common, and manufacturers are actively working to counteract the effects, it’s still possible, especially for those of us who are already prone to motion sickness.
If that’s you, it’s perhaps best not to use your bone conduction headphones while driving. Sometimes low volumes can help, but vertigo can be caused by the static pressure of the headphones rather than the volume, so low volume isn’t always a guaranteed way to avoid the effects of vertigo.
Bone conduction headphones are generally considered safe to use while driving, but like all things, this differs from person to person. It’s usually safer than using noise-canceling headphones. But there are risks, most of which can be avoided by keeping the volume low. Still, if you have a safer option, like a car radio, that might be best.