I decided to look it up. I was wrong. Only a handful of states say driving with earbuds or headphones is illegal.
It seems rather silly to make it illegal at all, in any state, when you have luxury car companies doing what they can to isolate drivers from outside sounds. With my earbuds in place and my windows open (because my air conditioner doesn’t work), I’m probably more likely to hear a distant siren than someone driving a Lexus with the windows up and no earbuds or headphones.
The earbuds that came with my iPhone are designed to allow me to hear what’s going on around me. One time I accidentally took them to a restaurant at lunchtime (instead of my cheap rubber earbuds, which block out ambient noise) and the restaurant was so noisy there was no point in using them. Making them illegal to use while driving makes even less sense.
The ones I drive with are cheap rubber earbuds that block out ambient noise, but the moment I see a cop car, I remove one from my left ear, because driving in Florida with headphones is illegal. That being said, good luck spotting my earbuds in a moving car from a cop car 50’ away. I’m not dumb enough to use actual headphones in my car, which would be a lot easier to see, and no cop who has pulled me over with my current setup has ever asked about or made an issue of the earbuds. They probably have more important things to worry about, and agree with me that the law is silly.
My point is: your chances of getting pulled over and ticketed for using earbuds are very remote, even if it were illegal in all 50 states. The chance is even more remote if you’re driving a Prius with OEM legally tinted windows, so I’m comfortable recommending a cheap pair of earbuds while driving if it helps. It’s not likely to endanger anyone or result in a fine. The only downside is that it would be rude to use them when you’ve got passengers in the car.
So @MaryGeorge, my recommendation remains the same. Go ahead and try the quiet tires, and if the car is still too loud, maybe check @MikeInNH’s link to see if earbuds are illegal in your state. I prefer the cheap JVC earbuds with a microphone like the ones in this picture, but you might want to go with a less conspicuous color than white if they’re illegal in your state. They’re $10.99 at Walmart, and the sound is pretty good. (Even the cheapest earbuds give quality sound when you put the speaker inside your ear canal, so it’s not worth it to buy the more expensive earbuds.)
Lastly, if you’re willing to wait 3-6 weeks for them to arrive, you can get inexpensive wireless Bluetooth earbuds on eBay that ship from China. The only drawback is short battery life, but they’d be fine for most commutes.
I don’t like earbuds or headphones…especially the noise canceling ones. People wearing them won’t be able to hear emergency sirens or the Big Rig honking as they loose control and about to ram you.
Noise-cancelling headphones filter out noise by using a microphone to pick up ambient noise and generate a sound wave that is 180° out of phase with the ambient noise. Those would most definitely be dangerous to use while driving.