According to a new study, the number of pedestrians who have been killed or seriously injured while wearing headphones has tripled in the last six years. The study says that the numbers rose from 16 in 2004 to 47 in 2011.
AFP reports that the research was led by Richard Lichenstein of the University of Maryland Hospital for Children in Baltimore, and was published by the British journal Injury Prevention.
Los Angeles Times reports the researchers used data obtained from the U.S. National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Google news archives and a university research database.
According to the study, accidents involving pedestrians wearing headphones while walking on the streets may continue to increase and there is increasing concern among road safety campaigners about the "trance-like state" people appear to fall into when using mobile headphones, especially for music. According to the Daily Mail, the study said that of the 116 cases between 2004 and 2011, 70 percent resulted in death, more than half of the victims were run down by trains and two-thirds were males under the age of 30. About one in ten of all cases involved persons under age 18, and in one quarter of the cases, a warning, such as a horn, sounded before the accident. Nine out of ten cases occurred in urban areas.
Experts refer to the state of trance-like inattention people fall into when wearing headphones as "inattentional blindness," or "divided attention," that is, a distraction that lowers the resources the brain devotes to external stimuli.
According to Los Angeles Times, the study concluded that hearing what is going on in the environment may be more important than visual cues for pedestrians. But, according to the researchers, the study does not show, "causation or correlation of headphone use and pedestrian risk, and other factors could have been involved in the accidents, such as pedestrians being intoxicated or drivers being at fault."
Lichenstein comments, however, that: "The use of headphones may pose a safety risk to pedestrians, especially in environments with moving vehicles." Daily Mail reports that Andrew Howard, a top road safety official, said: "Pedestrians and cyclists seem to get lost in a private cocoon when they’re on a mobile in the street, or wearing headphones. Precise figures don’t appear to be available here. There are many close calls. You’ve only got to look around to see it’s on the rise."
The statistics, according to AFP, covered people wearing iPods, MP3 players and other electronic musical devices but did not include mobile phones.