Mind and Body

Pedestrians with Headphones More Likely to be Injured

People who walk to work or school wearing ear buds or headphones face a greater risk for injury or death because they are less aware of their surroundings. Pedestrian injuries in the U.S. have tripled since 2004, researchers say.

Photo of young woman outdoors, wearing headphones

University of Maryland researchers looked at data from the U.S. National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, and search results from Google. They focused on deaths and injuries from January 2004 through June 2011 among pedestrians wearing headphones.

They found 116 cases during that time period. From 2004 to 2005, 16 injuries or deaths occurred. But the number shot to 47 - about a three-fold increase - from 2010 to 2011.

High number of deaths

"These are pedestrians getting hit by cars, trains, trucks, vans, buses and things like that," says lead researcher Richard Lichenstein, M.D. "About 70 percent of the injuries were fatal."

About two-thirds of victims were under 30 years of age, and the most common accident, occurring in 55 percent of the cases, was being hit by a train. Most of the accidents happened in cities, with only 12 percent occurring in rural areas.

Headphones block sound

In three out of four cases, bystanders had actually seen the victim wearing headphones. The sound coming from those headphones likely masked outside noise, because in 29 percent of the accidents, horns or sirens had been sounded just before the victim was hit.

"People wearing headphones need to be conscious of the outside environment and risk of moving vehicles, because not only are you distracted by the music, but also the sounds of traffic or horns or sirens are blocked," Dr. Lichenstein says.

The study was published in the journal Injury Prevention.

Dr. Lichenstein says the way to reduce the risk is simple. "Be cognizant of the environment. Know there is risk out there. It's not a great idea to be distracted and it's not a great idea to shut out those sounds that may help you live another day," he says.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

Online Resources

(Our Organization is not responsible for the content of Internet sites.)

American College of Emergency Physicians - Pedestrian Safety

CDC - Walk This Way! Taking Steps for Pedestrian Safety

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration - National Survey of Bicyclist and Pedestrian Attitudes and Behavior

March 2012

Walk on the Safe Side

You can take a few easy steps to minimize your risk when walking on the street, whether it's at night or any other time. Here are some tips:

  • Tip No. 1: Be quick and confident. If you move swiftly, with a look on your face that exudes strength and confidence, then you're less likely to be a mark for a potential mugger than someone who looks scared, slow, or unsure of herself.

  • Tip No. 2: Lose the ear buds. It might make the walk feel like it's going faster, but if you don't feel comfortable or safe with your surroundings, using your iPod or other MP3 player is only going to make things worse. You need to hear what is going on around you, so you can make better decisions for your safety.

  • Tip No. 3: Have a buddy. If you know that you need to walk in a strange or dark neighborhood, ask a friend to go with you. Two people together are a less desirable target than one person, especially a woman walking alone, so buddy up whenever possible.

  • Tip No. 4: Stay on the main drag. Another good way to avoid problems is to plot out your course beforehand with someone who knows the area. That way, you can stick to large, well-lit streets with lots of traffic and people around, as opposed to dark back streets that may be more dangerous.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

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