Headphone-Related Accidents On the Rise, Study Finds

Fatal accidents involving pedestrians wearing headphones have tripled since 2004, according to a study published by Richard Lichenstein, associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Maryland.

“I see it everywhere, everyday,” said Mary Henson, 45, local Asheville taxi cab driver.  “Honestly, it scares me how oblivious to the rest of the world these people seem to be.”

The study, published in January, concluded that the use of headphones with handheld devices, like iPods or cell phones, pose a safety risk to pedestrians in environments with moving vehicles.  Lichenstein led the team whose research revealed that injuries due to these circumstances have tripled in the past six years.

“I just keep my eyes moving and hope that the people on the sidewalk are doing the same,” Henson said.  “More than once I’ve seen someone wearing those big, goofy headphones step out in front of a car and almost get creamed.”

There were 116 deaths or injuries of people wearing headphones reported between 2004 and 2011, according to the study published by Lichenstein.

“I haven’t seen anyone get hit, or hit anyone personally, but I’d bet there’s a close call every day,” Henson said.  “I feel like it’s just a matter of time before something horrible happens.”

Lichenstein’s study found that 68 percent of the victims involved in this type of incident were male, and 67 percent were under the age of 30.  In 55 percent of the cases involving fatal accidents, the vehicle involved was a train.

Students around campus should also be aware of the danger, said Jana Miles, a junior at UNC Asheville.

“I noticed that the signs in the crosswalks have helped slow down the drivers, but there is nothing stopping the students just meandering around campus,” Miles said.  “Lots of them just walk right into the streets without even looking.”

No injuries of this type were reported on the UNCA campus.

“I find it odd that it hasn’t happened here yet considering the huge number of students running around wearing ear buds,” Miles said.  “I guess people driving here are doing a good job paying attention.”

Eighty-nine percent of the reported cases occurred in urbanized counties, according to Lichenstein’s study.

“The city is no place to be when you’re in your own world,” Henson said.  “It really is dangerous.  There’s a lot of movement going on, and if you’re not paying attention to it, you’ll end up trampled underneath it.”

In 29 percent of the reported cases, a warning, such as a train whistle or car horn, was sounded before the pedestrian was injured or killed, according to Lichenstein’s study.

“You can blow your horn all you want at somebody in the city and they won’t pay attention to you,” Henson said.  “If it’s busy downtown, the noise of your horn just gets absorbed into the mess of sound going on and you end up being ignored.  That, along with the person already being oblivious, makes for a dangerous situation for people walking.”

Some people, like Alan Priest, UNCA sophomore, think the statistics are exaggerated and headphones pose no danger to pedestrians.

“I listen to my iPod every day when I walk to class, and I haven’t been hit yet,” Priest said.  “I still pay attention to everything around me.  It’s not a distraction from anything but silence.”

Lichenstein concluded that more research should be done.

“I don’t think we need any more figures and statistics,” Henson said.  “What we need is for people to wake up and pay attention when they are in a dangerous situation.  You’d think it would be common sense, but people continue to surprise me.”

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