The number of headphone-related pedestrian deaths rose from 16 cases in 2004 to 47 instances in 2011. Although the overall number is still fairly small, the increase in accidents highlights a common concern: many pedestrians with headphones just aren’t paying attention.
With over half of all headphone-related pedestrian deaths involving trains, the trend suggests there’s a serious risk to drowning out your surroundings with excessively loud music. Two recent, and unrelated, incidents in Canada over the past week highlighted the growing problem of pedestrians oblivious to the world around them.
Both accidents involved young males, one a 19-year-old Alberta native, the other a 16-year-old from Ontario. In each of the two instances, the victim was struck by a train in broad daylight while listening to music.
Dr. Richard Lichtenstein, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, conducted a U.S. study on headphone-related pedestrian deaths. Not surprisingly, he found that the majority of incidents involved young males, with 67 percent of victims under the age of 30.
In addition to citing auditory deprivation as the main problem, Lichtenstein also notes, “It’s probably easy to walk and chew gum, but if you’re focused on your music, you may not be paying attention to the traffic around you.” This phenomenon is called “inattentional blindness,” and occurs when multiple sources of stimulation overwhelm the brain’s ability to allocate resources.
The recent deaths are made all the more tragic by the fact that they seem to have been 100 percent preventable.
Although some have suggested banning pedestrians from using headphones, that type of legislation seems both unpopular and unlikely. Several states, including California, have laws requiring that cyclists keep at least one ear uncovered, but extending those restrictions to pedestrians is a different matter altogether. Lichtenstein suggests that laws governing pedestrian headphone usage would be “cumbersome” to enforce, and instead emphasizes education and awareness.
In essence, it all boils down to common sense. Pedestrians wearing headphones need to keep the volume low enough to hear what’s going on around them and pay attention to their surroundings. No one should ever lose their life because they needed to listen to music at full volume.
Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/renneville/2908748583/