Headphones Put Pedestrians At Risk

The next time you head out the door for some exercise or a walk downtown, do yourself a favor: don’t wear headphones.

The number of injuries to pedestrians wearing headphones has more than tripled since 2004, according to University of Maryland researchers. Many times, pedestrians simply did not hear the horns of cars or trains, the study found. Nearly three-quarters of the injuries were fatal.

The study was prompted after a teenager died crossing railroad tracks, said lead author Richard Lichenstein, associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Maryland Medical Center. In that case, the train was blaring its horn, but the teen did not hear it.

“As a pediatric emergency physician and someone interested in the safety and prevention, I saw this as an opportunity to – at a minimum – alert parents of teens and young adults of the potential risk of wearing headphones where moving vehicles are present,” Lichenstein said in a news release from the University of Maryland Medical Center.

The study, published online in the journal Injury Prevention, included case reports from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Google News Archives, and Westlaw Campus Research databases from 2004 to 2011.

After reviewing 116 accident cases involving pedestrians and headphones, researchers concluded that at least two-thirds of the victims were male and under the age of 30. More than half of the accidents involved trains, the release said. Almost one-third of the vehicles tried to alert the pedestrian by sounding some type of warning horn.

Lichenstein and his colleagues attributed “distraction and sensory deprivation” as the “likely phenomena associated with these injuries and deaths,” the news release states.

“The distraction caused by the use of electronic devices has been coined “inattentional blindness,” in which multiple stimuli divide the brain’s mental resource allocation…The distraction is intensified by sensory deprivation, in which the pedestrian’s ability to hear a train or car warning signal is masked by the sounds produced by the portable electronic device and headphones.”

Sources: University of Maryland Medical Center news release, Injury Prevention

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