MONDAY, Jan. 16 (HealthDay News) -- Folks who walk to work or
school while listening to music via headphones may want to unplug,
with a new U.S. study finding injuries to this group of people
tripling since 2004.
The reason, University of Maryland researchers say, is that use
of iPods and other MP3 players makes people much less aware of
their environment, including oncoming traffic.
"MP3 usage is common in young adults and teenagers and we found that people wearing headphones are at risk of getting hit and having injury or death," said lead researcher Dr. Richard Lichenstein, an associate professor of pediatrics in Pediatric Emergency Medicine Research at the University of Maryland Children's Hospital.
"These are pedestrians getting hit by cars, trains, trucks, vans, buses and things like that," he said. "About 70 percent of the injuries were fatal and more than 50 percent of the victims were hit by trains."
The report was published in the Jan. 16 online edition of
For the study, Lichenstein's team used the U.S. National
Electronic Injury Surveillance System, the U.S. Consumer Product
Safety Commission and Google to find data on deaths and injuries
among pedestrians wearing headphones from January 2004 through June
During this time, they found 116 such events reported. In
2004-05 just 16 such cases were noted, but that rate rose nearly
three-fold to 47 during 2010-2011, the researchers report.
About two-thirds of victims were under 30 years of age, and the
most common accident (55 percent) was being hit by a train. Most
such accidents happened in cities, with only 12 percent occurring
in rural areas.
In 70 percent of cases the accident proved fatal, and in three
out of four, bystanders had actually seen the victim wearing
headphones just prior to the accident. 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," Lichenstein said. Experts label this type of distraction "inattentional blindness."
Commenting on the study, Dr. Carl Schulman, director of Injury
Prevention Education at the University of Miami Miller School of
Medicine, pointed to an earlier study suggesting that any form of
impaired hearing can raise a person's injury risk.
In a 1995 New Zealand study involving almost 200 children, those
with (natural) hearing problems had an increased risk of being hit
by a car, compared with children with normal hearing, Schulman
This is similar to having one's hearing intentionally blocked by
music coming from headphones, so it is not surprising that the new
study saw a similar pattern among people plugged into MP3 players,
Lichenstein said 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 said.
For more information on pedestrian safety, visit
Safe Kids U.S.A..
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