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Injuries while walking with headphones tripled, study finds
January 16th, 2012
06:31 PM ET

Injuries while walking with headphones tripled, study finds

Crossing a busy street while blasting music into your headphones doesn’t exactly enhance your awareness.

The number of serious injuries and deaths occurring to pedestrians who were walking with headphones has tripled in seven years in the United States, according to a report published in Injury Prevention.

Dr. Richard Lichenstein and co-authors from the University of Maryland School of Medicine reported 116 crashes involving pedestrians who were wearing headphones between 2004 and 2011.  Eighty-one of them resulted in deaths.  It started with 16 cases between 2004 and 2005 and rose to 47 by 2010 and 2011.

Half of the victims were struck by trains; the other half by cars, buses, trucks, tractor trailers or bicycles.  Using headphones while walking isn’t really a new phenomenon – considering people used to walk around with portable audio cassette players and compact disc players.

The difference is that our electronic gadgets are more prevalent and much more portable than the age of the Walkman, said Lichenstein, director of Pediatric Emergency Medicine Research at the University of Maryland.  A Pew study found that about 75% of teens reported using an MP3 player in 2008.

“You’d be hard-pressed not to look out the window and see people walking around with headphones,” he said.  “People probably had it with growing up - not to the extent that we see now.”

They are likely to have inattentional blindness (distraction) and sensory deprivation, where people can't hear warning sounds.  On Friday, a pedestrian was struck by a train as he crossed the streetcar tracks while wearing headphones, according to a German newspaper.  Although the train sounded the warning horns, the pedestrian was not able to hear the warning horn and was later hospitalized.

Lichenstein and the group gathered the injury and death data from National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Google News archives and Westlaw Campus Research databases. They used a grading system to assess whether the evidence that the victim had been wearing headphones at the time of the incident was strong.

The median age of the victims was 21 years old and the majority (68%) were male.

The cases the study authors counted is “the tip of the iceberg,” Lichenstein said as injuries are likely to go unreported.

The idea for this study came because Lichenstein, who chairs the state’s child fatality review team, had heard of several incidents in Baltimore of serious injuries and even deaths of people wearing headphones.

“We acknowledge that there are limitations to the study,” he said.  “We did the best we can, given the fact that there’s no way to do an observational study of this type.”

The authors wrote: “Since this is a retrospective case series, neither causation nor correlation can be established between headphone use and pedestrian risk.”  It’s also impossible to decipher whether the reason why some people were struck by trains and cars were due to suicidal intentions, substance abuse, mental illness rather than distraction caused by headphone use.

But the injuries and deaths of distracted pedestrians have caught the attention of lawmakers around the country.  One Chicago lawmaker proposed banning all cell phone use for cyclists.  A New York bill was proposed last year that would’ve banned cell phone or MP3 usage while crossing the street, according to the New York Times.

That’s not the “most efficient or wisest regulation we should have,” said Lichenstein. “We want people to be thoughtful and conscious.  Everyone loves their tunes and enjoying themselves. When they’re walking, talking or listening to music, at least be cognizant of the fact it’s a big world out there.  You may not be paying attention and people may not be paying attention to you.”


soundoff (275 Responses)
  1. WhackyWaco

    Duh! How much money was spent to come up with this simple conclusioin?

    January 17, 2012 at 13:01 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Raven

      Better yet, how in touch with modern society is the author? It references portable audio cassette players and portable cd players as pointing to the phenom not being new. Yet those devices have not been used for quite some time. One half of the deaths are on train tracks. That is the glaring piece of information that should have been focused on. I would have rather the author look into why the increase here. Probable causation would likely be increased speed of trains, lack of rail safety education, or many other factors. In either event distractions are causing an increase in fatalities whether you are walking or driving. No news here that most of us with common sense don't know.

      January 17, 2012 at 13:38 | Report abuse |
    • dave

      Raven read your own comment. Of course the artilce mentions devices that are not new when they talk about the accidents not being new. I love the anti-science people, why study something that we all know from common sense - the earth is flat and the sun revolves around it

      January 17, 2012 at 14:09 | Report abuse |
    • Joe

      Your common sense is just as worthless as this story. It would not be surprising if the number of people walking around with headphones has increased by 300%. If that is true, then a 300% in accidents involving headphones would actually be evidence that wearing headphones is NOT dangerous, since otherwise the accident rate would have increased by more than the rate of headphone use. I'm not saying this is the case, I'm saying this article doesn't give enough information to say anything either way.

      January 17, 2012 at 14:31 | Report abuse |
    • magnus

      Wow, 50% of people that were hit by a moving vehicle were trains. Sorry, but if you get hit by a train while listening to your iPod, then you should be removed from the breeding pool.

      January 17, 2012 at 14:40 | Report abuse |
    • Bernard Webb

      Sorry Joe, your logic's off. If headphone use went up 300% and the number of deaths went up 300%, that would only show that the risk level had stayed the same, not whether it was low or high.

      January 17, 2012 at 14:41 | Report abuse |
  2. Fun with statistics

    They are talking about 81 deaths in roughly 20 million over the last 10 years. We're really devoting time and money to less than .0001 of the mortality rate (and arguably, the part natural selection would have taken care of anyway).

    I remember when CNN actually had news...

    January 17, 2012 at 13:02 | Report abuse | Reply
    • chuckcreig

      I don't.

      January 17, 2012 at 13:05 | Report abuse |
    • Dana

      They are talking about 200% increase in these deaths. How about read with understanding of main points?

      January 17, 2012 at 13:16 | Report abuse |
    • Schlangemann

      They should analyse how many of those who were hit by trains were playing Fall Out Boy during the accident. I dont care how loud your music is, trains are not sneaky and they often announce thier presence multiple times at about 160db. Sounds like those "accidents" were more along the lines of "decisions".

      January 17, 2012 at 13:25 | Report abuse |
    • Sean

      @Dana
      Fun with statistics is actually correct. (yes I did catch the mortality rate ‘shift” lol) If hearing was that much of a safety issue we wouldn’t have very many deaf people left now would we?

      January 17, 2012 at 13:25 | Report abuse |
    • Hugo

      If you don't like CNN's behavior, why are you supporting it (by reading articles and posting)? CNN makes money from advertising. Reading and posting increases advertising revenue. Ignoring CNN doesn't.

      So, if you don't like CNN's behavior, why are you supporting it?

      January 17, 2012 at 13:27 | Report abuse |
    • Nur

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      April 14, 2012 at 15:14 | Report abuse |
  3. AutumnskyD

    Are people really so stupid that they don't get that masking your senses while walking or driving is dangerous. Yes I know many drivers will tell you that they can juggle porcupines and watch tv while driving. Common sense tells you can't take that chance. Navigation while in motion requires you to evaluate a constant stream of data gathered from all available sources. If reality were such that only the walker or driver was injured or killed it wouldn't be problem.

    January 17, 2012 at 13:03 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Dana

      Tell that to the driver who followed me at 4 ft distance this morning while having her ear and brain glued to the cell phone. And that happens every day, every morning, every evening. But try to regulate those drivers by intruducing the law that makes streets ad driving safer: they will scream about taking their freedoms and that government wants to rule them *rolls eyes

      January 17, 2012 at 13:18 | Report abuse |
    • Yeah but

      "You're livin' in your own private Idaho." They don't want to risk interacting with others in a non-digital way.

      January 17, 2012 at 13:21 | Report abuse |
    • Lee

      Do you know why most dogs don't cross at intersections? It's because they have a hard time discerning sound coming from four different directions at once and having to make a decision. They know their hearing is important to them in order for them to cross the road without being run over. Ironically, not crossing at the intersection is more dangerous to all of us.

      I think better education is the best thing. Not laws. Better education.

      January 17, 2012 at 13:54 | Report abuse |
    • magnus

      "juggling porcupines". Nice!

      January 17, 2012 at 15:15 | Report abuse |
  4. chuckcreig

    The best is listening to music and texting simultaneously while crossing a busy street. That way you block the auditory canals AND have your head down, AND have both hands busy. This is the surest guarantee for maximum car impact. If you only want to lose an arm or a leg though, you can just listen OR text. It's your call, retards.

    January 17, 2012 at 13:03 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Honey Badger

      THIS..........should be in stone. Very nice.

      January 17, 2012 at 13:50 | Report abuse |
    • magnus

      well played.

      January 17, 2012 at 15:15 | Report abuse |
  5. Rich

    Let the weak cull themselves, it's fine with me. It's just a shame they sometimes cause harm to people who are thoughtful and aware in the process.

    January 17, 2012 at 13:04 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Paulo

      Hey dud, get off my life! I need my bands to keep me flowing. Right now I'm crossing Broad street listening to the Pink Bear....ARRRGH!!!

      January 17, 2012 at 13:19 | Report abuse |
  6. Peter

    The real reason that most of these people got hit is that their mothers never told them to look both ways before crossing the street.

    January 17, 2012 at 13:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. GBridges

    This reminded me of the runner who was killed by a plane making an emergency landing behind him on the beach in Hilton Head last year. Freak accident yes, but could have been avoided had the individual not been wearing headphones.

    January 17, 2012 at 13:08 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Kana

      Might as well include all the jogger's with their ears plugged and have no idea if someone is approaching them from behind.

      January 17, 2012 at 14:36 | Report abuse |
  8. Azzz Hatt

    Great, let's make a "no listening and walking law" too on top of no texting. Maybe we can arrest everyone for anything!

    January 17, 2012 at 13:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. mary

    Always has seemed dangerous..
    Especially the women who jog with head sets on.. they are almost totally vulnerable.

    January 17, 2012 at 13:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Yesman

    A more dramatic headline: "Natural Selection Weeds Out Cyborgs Amongst Us".

    January 17, 2012 at 13:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. manyworldsinterpreter

    How much did the percentage of pedestrians wearing headphones increase during the same time? With the prevalence of ipod ownership it would not be surprising if that percentage rose faster than the reported number of pedestrian fatalities wearing headphones which would suggest that wearing headphones saves lives. (Unlikely, but illustrates the meaninglessness of the report. Can you say ""correlation does not imply causation? I knew your could"

    January 17, 2012 at 13:15 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Grog Says

      Grog say, stupid get you killed.
      Grog see stupid boy stand in middle of street
      talking on cell phone,
      ten points.

      January 17, 2012 at 16:28 | Report abuse |
  12. Fred Evil

    I spent 4 years with headphones glued in my ears 25 years ago, the Sony Walkman, remember that?
    But if you pay attention to your surroundings, instead of blithely tooling along like a tool, it's easy not to get hit by cars, or fall down stairs.
    People today are simply having their idiocy put on display for all to see.

    January 17, 2012 at 13:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. pamik

    I agree with WhackyWaco. Duh! They could have paid me all that money and I could have told them the same thing. As for GBridges..what a hoot! How bout the guy died because a plane came out of the sky? Today, people need to be told everything and take no responsiblity for their own actions. I know if I drive or cross the street with my eyes closed, I might be injured or killed. What is so difficult about that concept?

    January 17, 2012 at 13:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. PGelsman

    Not to mention the morons walking around playing with their phones. What did these people do before this craze started?

    January 17, 2012 at 13:16 | Report abuse | Reply
    • MrsFizzy

      Exactly. It's not just that you don't hear, it's general distraction. It's been demonstrated that your brain does not perform as well when you are doing 2 things at once whether it's listening, reading or actively doing something like texting. Some people can compensate better than others but it's still compensating, not the way your brain was meant to work. We were talking to a female police officer at one of their exhibits at the state fair talking about the texting driving ban and she said oh we do it, but we're trained to do multiple things all the time while we're driving and I'm fine with it. A couple of weeks later on the news, oops that had officer run her car off the road for no apparent reason!

      January 17, 2012 at 14:53 | Report abuse |
    • Grog Says

      Play with themselves.
      Grog make funny, ha ha.

      January 17, 2012 at 16:30 | Report abuse |
  15. tomanycommentsystemsonCNN

    who cares, we will do what we want

    January 17, 2012 at 13:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. carlin123

    Just thinning out the herd. The weak and stupid don't live too long.

    January 17, 2012 at 13:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Lenny

    Living can be fatal. It ends in death 100% of the time. Unlike headphones, it is also sexually transmitted.

    January 17, 2012 at 13:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Daniel

    The headline should read: Injuries while walking 'while being stupid' tripled, study finds. Irresponsible people and those who champion them in the courts and press will always find a way to shift the ultimate individual responsibility of their stupid actions onto something else. Observe: Headphones for people walking stupidly, cell phones for people driving stupidly, high calorie foods for people eating stupidly, guns for people using them stupidly, politicians for people voting stupidly, Et cetera, Et cetera.

    January 17, 2012 at 13:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. ROCKWOOD

    I see people do this all the time, even while riding bikes, rollerblading, or whatever. Not very bright. Even more so with the hybrid cars that hardly make any noise.

    January 17, 2012 at 13:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Steve

    Everything is fatal. Fodder for the news networks.

    January 17, 2012 at 13:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. campus

    I work on a campus......it is insane how many people text crossing a road.
    Idiots going to college............too bad they do not offer a common sense class..
    I have even had a foreign woman run out in front of me with a baby!
    Most college kids, do no not look right left right, much less look up when crossing the road.
    Don't take for granted that the person driving in the car is not "texting"
    We even had a group of students hit by a car while crossing in a crosswalk. One of those students died.

    January 17, 2012 at 13:43 | Report abuse | Reply
    • MrsFizzy

      So many people you see living their lives as if everyone else is looking out for them, not the other way round. See it all the time, whether it's crossing the street, driving, going through the store – everyone else can stop for them. And many times I've noticed they are just as distracted with this glazed look on them when they are talking on a bluetooth piece about whatever, as if they were texting. I guess one day their luck will run out :/ The only problem is they might not be the only one to get hurt.

      January 17, 2012 at 14:58 | Report abuse |
  22. Zeppelin

    Take your headphones/earbuds OFF, direct your gaze UP and PAY ATTENTION. It's so funny that we exist in close quarters as a society (generally), then pretend that others don't exist at all. This happens on the road, on the sidewalk, apartment communities and elitist gated communities.

    January 17, 2012 at 13:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Marvin

    Useless info really. Consider that this report doesn't give any perspective. Yes, I read that it's a sizable increase in deaths AND they were wearing headphones. But are we seeing an increase of pedestrian deaths overall? If not then there is nothing to this study. They were going to die anyway. The headphones angle could have easily been "someone wearing plaid," or "those wearing dress shoes."

    January 17, 2012 at 13:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Tsunela

    How often are deaf people killed compared to those wearing headphones? Deaf people are accustomed using their eyes to observe their surroundings. Sorry to see this is happening.

    January 17, 2012 at 13:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. guslv

    Simple: When walking – Ban headphones, cellphones, talking to someone else and of yes, thinking about anything except walking!

    January 17, 2012 at 13:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. bill

    I did this ALL the time when I was in college.... a lot of people do.

    I'd say the most dangerous spot would be walking in the parking lot.... If it's a big lot and it's packed to the gills. You're going to be walking between cars to get to where you want to go. If you're not looking.... all it takes is one person hastily looking for a spot... and your're going to get nailed.

    ... all you need to do is volume down in potentially dangerous situations! Don't go full blast!!!

    January 17, 2012 at 13:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. iceload9

    There's DEATH around every corner. It's a miracle we survive a single day. Put this under stupid information. And if someone wants to wear headphones while walking, should the govt be involved. This is just getting to be more and more stupid. Such an over reaction to something that will not even register when grouped with any other classification of deaths.

    January 17, 2012 at 13:54 | Report abuse | Reply
    • MrsFizzy

      OK, but when somebody walks out in front of your car it might register.

      January 17, 2012 at 15:01 | Report abuse |
  28. MashaSobaka

    Okay, all "let's not get our panties in a twist over such a measly number of deaths" and "kids these days are so stupid blah blah my generation is so much smarter blah blah" aside, I just don't understand how someone could be blasting their music so loudly that they cannot hear a FREAKING TRAIN bearing down on them. I live a good ways away from the train tracks and the damn things wake me up at least once a week with their screeching and Doppler-effecting. How do you get close enough for it to actually kill you and NOT hear it in time to get away? How are these people not rupturing their eardrums long before that?

    January 17, 2012 at 13:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Jacob

    This study is terribly done, and the data is presented in such a way as to make it totally meaningless. By looking at the number of accidents of people using headphones without looking at total accidents, the only thing they have proved is that more people are wearing headphones now.

    January 17, 2012 at 13:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Breaking News!

    Omg! Let's put this on the front cover! It's super duper important! Omg!

    January 17, 2012 at 14:06 | Report abuse | Reply
    • dave

      it is important to show people who think they can walk around with headphones on

      this is what Steve Jobs gave us . Almost 100 years ago Henry Ford paid his AMERICAN workers $5/day. Steve JObs sent his work to China and paid $50/month

      January 17, 2012 at 14:11 | Report abuse |
  31. dave

    Change the headline –"Young People Still Stupid"

    January 17, 2012 at 14:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. KenC

    In both SAN DIEGO, CA and AUSTIN, TX, pedestrians just bolt out in the street without even LOOKING for traffic! Even without headphones! I think most pedestrians are just irresponsible.

    January 17, 2012 at 14:13 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Feast of Beast

      You need to come to Miami to really experience it. It takes 10 minutes to cross the front of a shopping center because of all the ignorant azzholes who walk in front of you like that without looking.

      January 17, 2012 at 14:15 | Report abuse |
  33. Feast of Beast

    No shyt! I'm really tired of people walking in front of my car without looking, whether they are on the phone, listening to music, or just not paying attention. People that do that, you can die as you deserve to. The problem is you know that their family will sue you and they sometimes win.These people being killed is survival of the fittest and elimination of the unfit, and they are not fit to live with their head up their a*s.

    January 17, 2012 at 14:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. Atheist #1

    Idiots! I guess Darwin was is right again.

    January 17, 2012 at 14:14 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Atheist #2

      Maybe if they were PRAYING to THEIR god (dog backwards) they would be able to do stupid stuff without getting bonked by a car!

      January 17, 2012 at 14:26 | Report abuse |
  35. Captain Jones

    Good! Stupid is as stupid does! I would love to be at the crosswalk handing out Darwin awards to the stupid, self centered youth of today. So self-absorbed that they have no idea of their surroundings, (oh I forgot, everybody is supposed to be paying attention to THEM). Wear your headphones, get smacked in the crosswalk. That should help with our population and food problems. Less morons around=more food for people that need it!

    January 17, 2012 at 14:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. prime rib medium rare

    Cruising and watching majic shows can be deadly also.

    January 17, 2012 at 14:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. twang

    Make it illegal like everything else

    January 17, 2012 at 14:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. hummmm

    Whenever I see people texting, talking, or listening to music while driving or walking I beep the horn at them, and sometimes it will get their attention. Other times it will scare the shyt out of them 🙂

    January 17, 2012 at 14:31 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Matteo

      With everything which paepars to be building within this specific subject material, many of your opinions are relatively exciting. Nevertheless, I beg your pardon, because I do not give credence to your whole plan, all be it exhilarating none the less. It would seem to me that your opinions are generally not entirely rationalized and in fact you are yourself not even entirely convinced of the point. In any case I did appreciate reading it.

      April 9, 2012 at 13:32 | Report abuse |
  39. DeeNYC

    No a law that can be made that can prevent stupid.

    January 17, 2012 at 14:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. Zotster

    This should be considered evolution in action. Half of the people killed were hit by trains? How oblivious do you have to be to not notice all the other signs (aside from auditory) that a train is coming? Evolution needs no legislation to set things right.

    January 17, 2012 at 14:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. Tracy

    I used to listen to my headphones on the street to avoid hearing the sexual slurs from men (I live in a major city). Then I realized that it does more harm than good being a female. If someone is creeping behind me I want to be alert. No more headphones.

    January 17, 2012 at 14:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. RCBinTN

    It's not cool to look both ways when listening to music. Hey man, it's all about the COOL.

    January 17, 2012 at 14:34 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Paul

      This is getting a bit more jvbsectiue, but I much prefer the Zune Marketplace. The interface is colorful, has more flair, and some cool features like Mixview' that let you quickly see related albums, songs, or other users related to what you're listening to. Clicking on one of those will center on that item, and another set of neighbors will come into view, allowing you to navigate around exploring by similar artists, songs, or users. Speaking of users, the Zune Social is also great fun, letting you find others with shared tastes and becoming friends with them. You then can listen to a playlist created based on an amalgamation of what all your friends are listening to, which is also enjoyable. Those concerned with privacy will be relieved to know you can prevent the public from seeing your personal listening habits if you so choose.

      April 8, 2012 at 14:30 | Report abuse |
  43. Bernard Webb

    It's called "thinning the herd".

    January 17, 2012 at 14:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. Rick

    Not that I don't believe this study... I just think that it is based on JUNK data, at least with what information was given. For instance. I wonder whether there might be MORE reporting of such cases in 2011 than lets say, in 2004 when the data first appeared. As the authors graciously noted in their study the data is JUNK. Leave it to SOMEONE to sensationalize a piece of work that is CLEARLY faulted and actually discounts any conclusions !!

    January 17, 2012 at 14:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. Joe Fatala

    In order for this article to be REALLY meaningful, they should compare the statistics between cell phone or mp3 player use and some other common activity, say.........oh, I don't know, how about...........sitting on the toilet. YES, OF COURSE. They could find out how many people die in the following catagories:
    1) Sitting on the toilet with no distractions
    2) Sitting on the toilet while listening to their mp3 players
    3) Sitting on the toilet while using a cell phone
    3) Sitting on the toilet while texting
    4) Sitting on the toilet while reading
    5) Sitting on the toilet while changing radio stations

    And that's just for openers. They could investigate the hazards of using single ply toilet paper compared to two ply, or sitting in an outhouse in a field in Montana surrounded by a cattle stampede, and so many more, I just can't begin to imagine – but I know you're all thinking of some trashy little thing.

    So I hope this post has brought to light the inherent danger of sitting on the toilet and you will all consider wearing your seat belt while pooping.

    January 17, 2012 at 14:45 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Grog Says

      Bathroom third door on right.

      January 17, 2012 at 16:35 | Report abuse |
  46. Mordechai

    A related study found that getting run over by a car while walking greatly increased the chance of injury.

    January 17, 2012 at 14:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. Chaz

    Thinning the heard ever so slightly.

    January 17, 2012 at 14:46 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Chaz

      Correction: Herd....

      January 17, 2012 at 14:48 | Report abuse |
    • Grog Says

      Grog hurd that.

      January 17, 2012 at 16:36 | Report abuse |
  48. Chaz

    Herd.

    January 17, 2012 at 14:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. Derek

    I'm sure some idiots family will bring a lawsuit against apple soon for causing the death of their loved one............

    January 17, 2012 at 14:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. Sheila

    So how many of these injuries included a driver who was on their cell phone hitting a pedestrian wearing headphones?

    January 17, 2012 at 14:49 | Report abuse | Reply
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