Injuries to pedestrians wearing headphones have more than tripled in six years, say researchers from the University of Maryland. Headphone-wearing pedestrians often cannot hear train whistles or car horns, leading to fatalities in almost three-quarters of such cases.
“Everybody is aware of the risk of cell phones and texting in automobiles, but I see more and more teens distracted with the latest devices and headphones in their ears,” said lead author of the study Richard Lichenstein, M.D., associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and director of pediatric emergency medicine research at the University of Maryland Medical Center. “Unfortunately as we make more and more enticing devices, the risk of injury from distraction and blocking out other sounds increases.”
Distraction and sensory deprivation while using electronic devices is called “inattentional blindness.” The study was undertaken after reviewing the tragic death of a local teen who was killed as he crossed railroad tracks. He was wearing headphones.
“As a pediatric emergency physician and someone interested in safety and prevention I saw this as an opportunity to — at minimum — alert parents of teens and young adults of the potential risk of wearing headphones where moving vehicles are present,” said Dr. Lichenstein.
Researchers studied case reports from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Google News Archives, and Westlaw Campus Research databases. They reviewed 116 cases from 2004 to 2011 which involved injured headphone-wearing pedestrians.
Sixty-eight percent of the victims were males and 67 percent were under age 30. More than 50 percent of the accidents involved trains and 29 percent of the vehicles involved reported sounding a warning prior to the accident.
Reference: Lichenstein R, Smith D, Ambrose J, Moody L. “Headphone use and pedestrian injury and death in the United States: 2004-2011.” Injury Prevention. Published online January 17, 2012. doi:10.1136/injuryprev-2011-040161.