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Headphone-Wearing Pedestrian Injuries Triple Since 2004

Earbuds (Alosh Bennett/Flickr)New research from the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore shows that serious injuries to pedestrians listening to headphones have tripled in the past six years. The team led by pediatrics professor Richard Lichenstein published its findings online in the journal Injury Prevention (paid subscription required).

Lichenstein and his colleagues extracted cases involving headphone use in reports from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Google News archives, and Westlaw Campus Research databases with reports published between 2004 and 2011 of pedestrian injuries or fatalities from crashes involving trains or motor vehicles. From those cases, researchers reviewed 116 accident reports from 2004 to 2011 in which injured pedestrians were documented to have used headphones.

The findings show the number of cases of headphone-related pedestrian crashes rose from 16 in 2004-2005 to 47 in 2010-2011, nearly a three-fold increase. And in seven of 10 cases (70%), the accident resulted in death to the pedestrian.

About two-thirds of the victims were male (68%) and under the age of 30 (67%). The majority of vehicles (55%) involved in the crashes were trains, and nine of 10 of cases (89%) occurred in urban counties. Some three-quarters (74%) of case reports said the victims were wearing headphones at the time of the crash, and almost a third of the cases (29%) mentioned that a warning was sounded before the crash.

Lichenstein’s team noted two phenomena associated with these injuries and deaths: distraction and sensory deprivation. Distraction caused by the use of electronic devices has been called “inattentional blindness,” where multiple stimuli divide the brain’s mental resource allocation. In cases of headphone-wearing pedestrians colliding with vehicles, the distraction is intensified by sensory deprivation, where 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.

“Everybody is aware of the risk of cell phones and texting in automobiles,” says Lichtenstein. “Unfortunately as we make more and more enticing devices, the risk of injury from distraction and blocking out other sounds increases.”

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Photo: Alosh Bennett/Flickr

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