Deadly Digital Distraction

A recent study conducted at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore indicates that there has been a significant increase in injuries to pedestrians wearing headphones.

While reviewing 116 accident cases from 2004 to 2011 in which injured pedestrians were using headphones the researchers found that 70% of the accidents resulted in death to the pedestrian. Most of the victims were male and under 30. And, unbelievably, over half of the accidents involved trains. Many were injured or killed by oncoming cars or trains that blew their horns.

According to the study – surprise, surprise – the increase in these types of accidents has coincided with the rising popularity of mobile gadgets that use headphones (e.g., iPods, MP3 players or media devices).

These days it’s not uncommon for folks to be plugged in and tuned out.

Recently, while out running, I shouted “on your left!” as I was about to pass a woman walking on a narrow sidewalk. I got no response. Nothing. Nada. She was plugged in and out – headphones on and looking down.

I confess that I am plugged into my iPod and tuned out, to an extent – at the gym. Working out at the gym without my own music is torture. That said, there’s little danger of me having a fatal run-in with anything or anyone. When I’m running outside, it’s a different matter.

As a runner, I’ve never been a fan of running with headphones and this goes back to the days of the Walkman – back in the dark ages. Why? When you run on the streets, you must be mindful of your surroundings. More often than not drivers are not looking out for you – especially during rush hour. You must make eye contact as much as possible. You also have to use your ears to be aware of the sound of approaching cars. It’s a bit harder with those stealthy hybrids.

So I’m not surprised that there’s a rise in fatalities. It’s hard to be aware of your surroundings when you’re grooving to your favorite beat at full blast. But, when you tune out while walking or running you’re basically running blind. In fact a common term for this is “inattentional blindness.”

If you can’t handle walking or running without being plugged-in, turn the volume down. Don’t be another needless statistic. Your pedestrian rights will only protect you so much. Let’s be honest, getting run over by a car or a train because you’re blasting Lady Gaga or Lil Wayne is a really stupid way to go.

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