The Common Law

Distracted driving issues

I had a long drive home after the holidays and I wanted to wear headphones while driving so I wouldn't wake my kids up, but my mother-in-law told me that it's illegal to wear headphones while driving. Is that true?

It depends on where you are driving. In Texas, there is no specific prohibition against wearing headphones (sometimes referred to as headsets in legal statutes) while driving, although the law on this issue is not standardized for all 50 states. Even in Texas (or other states that don't prohibit drivers from wearing headphones), you can still get ticketed for distracted driving. And you run the risk of not hearing the horns or sirens of an emergency vehicle, which can get you another ticket if you fail to yield. If you're driving through California, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, or Pennsylvania you can wear headphones but only in one ear. Wearing any kind of headset or earphones while driving is completely prohibited in Alaska, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Rhode Island, Virginia, and Washington.

While I was driving home from my family vacation, some car kept tailgating me while I was in the center lane. What are the laws on tailgating in Texas?

If someone is tailgating you, then that driver is doing something wrong, not you. According to the Texas Transportation Code Section 545.062, drivers should maintain a safe and clear distance from the cars in front of them considering speed, traffic, and driving conditions. Based on the wording of the statute, a clear and safe distance is somewhat subjective and can vary significantly, but it's better to leave a little extra room in case the car in front of you stops suddenly. Aggressive driving causes a lot of accidents and can be distracting so if someone is tailgating you, keep your eyes on the road ahead and not on your rearview mirror. If the tailgater is really aggressive then it's best to play it safe and get out of their way rather than becoming aggressive in return.

Please submit column suggestions, questions, and comments to thecommonlaw@austinchronicle.com. Submission of potential topics does not create an attorney-client relationship, and any information submitted is subject to being included in future columns.

Marrs, Ellis & Hodge LLP, www.jmehlaw.com.

The material in this column is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute, nor is it a substitute for, legal advice. For advice on your specific facts and circumstances, consult a licensed attorney. You may wish to contact the Lawyer Referral Service of Central Texas, a non-profit public service of the Austin Bar Association, at 512-472-8303 or www.austinlrs.com.

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