September 22, 2019 | 76° F

Study finds dangers of walking with headphones


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Photo by Jennifer?Miguel-Hellman |

Walking while wearing headphones and crossing in the wrong places can be potentially dangerous, according to a recent University of Maryland study.


Injuries among pedestrians wearing headphones have more than tripled in the last six years, according to a University of Maryland study.

Dr. Richard Lichenstein, an associate professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, said the increase of headphone-related incidents between 2004 and 2011 points to an issue similar to driving while texting or otherwise impaired. 

“You’re essentially multitasking, so your brain is dividing its attention [while walking],” said Lichenstein, who led the research team.

“Inattentional blindness,” a division of attention, is often cited as the cause of motor vehicle accidents, he said. Similar to the sensory deprivation that headphone users experience, this division reflects the hazards of a distracted culture, particularly in the 15- to 21-age bracket.

“‘Inattentional blindness’ is very similar to being completely oblivious,” he said. “I think it’s a sign of the times — walking around, you see more and more people wearing these devices.”

The research team formed their study by analyzing accident reports from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Google News and Westlaw Campus Research databases from 2004 to 2011, Lichenstein said.

He initiated the study after reviewing a case where a local teen died crossing railway tracks while wearing headphones, according to the study, which was released via ohsonline.com.

Study results show that 70 percent of the 116 accidents, which involved “inattentional blindness,” resulted in death to the pedestrian.

“Unfortunately, as we make more and more enticing devices, the risk of injury from distraction and blocking out other sounds increases,” Lichenstein said in the study.

Lt. Nicholas Chiorello of the University Police Department said newer technologies have brought their own set of safety concerns, with the use of headphones being one of many distractions that lead to accidents.

“We look at [pedestrian safety] every year,” he said. “People ask me questions about lighting and painting of crosswalks.”

But factors other than distracted pedestrians also contribute to accidents, such as crossing the street at the wrong place, Chiorello said. A car driving 25 mph has a stopping distance of about 85 feet, making the proper use of crosswalks a serious safety concern.

“Students should be aware of all the different factors,” he said. “That includes looking, listening and being more aware.”

Niki Patel, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, said she has not noticed a problem with pedestrian safety on campus, but thought the study was informative.

“I can see the logic,” she said. “People should know [about the study].”

Ali Coskun, a Rutgers School of Business first-year student, said listening to music on headphones is becoming a worrying issue, particularly while driving.

“People walk slowly and are more distracted,” he said. “I feel I have to pay more attention.”

Lichenstein said the results of his study were unexpected, with headphone use contributing more toward accidents than anticipated. But there is hope that implications of sensory deprivation among pedestrians serve as a warning to others.

“As a pediatric emergency physician and someone interested in safety and prevention, I saw this as an opportunity to … alert parents of teens and young adults of the potential risk of wearing headphones where moving vehicles are present,” he said.


By Matthew Matilsky

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