Distracted Walking? Crashes Involving Headphones Skyrocket

Majority of accidents resulted in death

By Kelvin Robinson
|  Monday, Jan 16, 2012  |  Updated 10:09 PM EDT
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Crashes Involving Headphones Skyrocket

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We've all heard of distracted driving, but it turns out distracted walking is dangerous, too.

In the past six years, injuries and deaths to pedestrians wearing headphones more than tripled, according to a new study by the University of Maryland School of Medicine and the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore.

Researchers looked at 116 accident cases from 2004 to 2011 where injured pedestrians were documented as wearing headphones. Nearly three quarters of the accidents resulted in pedestrian fatalities. Among the victims, more than two thirds were young adult males.

"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 Dr. Richard Lichenstein, the lead author of the study.

"Unfortunately as we make more and more enticing devices, the risk of injury from distraction and blocking out other sounds increases," he added.

According to the study, more than half of the crashes involved trains. Nearly a third of the drivers in the accidents reported sounding a warning horn before the crash happened.

The study determined two likely causes for the injuries and deaths: Distraction and sensory deprivation. Pedestrians with the headphones were likely distracted by their devices, causing a condition called "inattentional blindness." With sensory deprivation, the ability for the victims to hear the warning sound became masked by the sounds from their devices.

Researchers hope this study will help to reduce the number of injuries and deaths related to pedestrians with headphones. They also hope to better understand how these accidents happen and what can be done to prevent them.

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