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. wassup

    Hard to figure why adults need to be constantly entertained and distracted like a baby in a crib with a bunch of mobiles or a kitten playing with a feather on the floor. Maybe if they simply used their brains and focussed their attentuion on the needs and responsibilities of the moment a whole lot of stuff would improve for them! There's a time and place for everything...remember that old fashioned idea??

    January 17, 2012 at 14:52 | Report abuse | Reply
    • MrsFizzy

      And the people who need to hear that message would say "Bo-ring!" I agree, not sure it's quite the same in all countries but it feels like as consumers we are being infantilized if that makes sense, all these toys are being offered that you are supposed to think you "MUST have" to fill up every moment of your existence – like a baby in a crib just like you said. You can't just give undivided attention to driving or shopping, you've got to be connected all the time and in case you've run out of stuff to blab about you've got to be listening to music or playing games. I sometimes think it would be interesting if we had some kind of total cell network failure even just for a week or so, so no one could use the gadgets they've gotten used to and see what happened.

      January 17, 2012 at 15:09 | Report abuse |
    • Devil's advocate

      Says the anonymous person responding on a blog site designed to keep people entertained.

      January 17, 2012 at 15:38 | Report abuse |
    • craig

      The true problem is that people have become slaves to their mobile devices. The iPhone rules their lives. If it rings...they MUST answer it. If they receive a text message, they MUST respond. Not responding is tantamount to a slave rebelling, and utterly unacceptable. When I was growing up...years ago...when we were in the car we simply couldn't be reached...and nobody died because of it. You called again later...until message machines showed up. People simply cannot cope with the idea that they're not Instantly Available. Doesn't matter if you and your spouse are...busy, the phone MUST come first.

      January 17, 2012 at 15:43 | Report abuse |


      January 17, 2012 at 15:46 | Report abuse |
    • AustinTexas

      That problem is rampant in downtown Austin. Duh...can't hear cars coming. Duh...turn it down a little.

      January 17, 2012 at 16:07 | Report abuse |
    • Angel Vomit

      If a story consists of pointing out the obvious, at what point did it become journalism and worth going to print... ooops, i'm sorry.. to upload. cause lord knows y'all got a bunch of typos going on this site... still dig you guys, but seriously.. whose editing these articles...

      January 17, 2012 at 16:17 | Report abuse |
    • lroy

      Excuse me, but I do not need to be distracted with head phones or alcohol. I just broke my toe...again (yes, AGAIN) on the door frame. I'm like a bull in a china shop, never watch where I'm going and that's just in the privacy of my own home. I bruise very easily, one ding and my leg looks like a connect the dots puzzle.

      January 17, 2012 at 17:09 | Report abuse |
    • kayray

      I don't understand this phenomenon of needing constant noise in your ears. When I'm out walking I like the sounds of the surrounding nature and other noises that go with it. Birds chirping and sprinklers going are soothing to me.

      January 17, 2012 at 17:13 | Report abuse |
    • Ringo

      Oh please! Spare us all . . .

      January 17, 2012 at 17:44 | Report abuse |
    • Glenn

      Darwinism at work? All those 21 yo males are taken out of the gene pool.

      January 17, 2012 at 17:45 | Report abuse |
  2. JJ

    It's really common sense something lacking in this day and age.

    January 17, 2012 at 14:52 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Martin

      Exactly. Why do people need to be warned that they may not hear an oncoming bus while their I pods are blasting in their ears. DUUUUUUUUHHHHHHH.

      I also agree that people need their ear buds or headphones on every available moment are like babies in a crib.

      January 17, 2012 at 15:18 | Report abuse |
    • Devil's advocate

      I am sure you don't listen to music in your car when your driving too.

      January 17, 2012 at 15:40 | Report abuse |
    • eman

      There is a big difference between listing to music in your car, and wearing isolation ear buds. Isolation ear buds are basically ear plugs with speakers built into them. By design, they prevent you from hearing external noises. In Denver, there was a recent case where a guy was hit by a light rail train while listening to his ipod. He apparently didn't hear the loud sound of the train, much less the horn

      . I can still hear the train horns, sirens, motorcycles, etc when I'm listening to music in my car. Even if you listen at low volumes, ear buds really hinder your ability to hear.

      January 17, 2012 at 16:18 | Report abuse |
  3. Chaz

    Being alive increases your chances of dying of something by 100%.

    January 17, 2012 at 14:54 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Conserberal

      So you're saying that being alive doubles your chance of dying? Fascinating!

      January 17, 2012 at 14:59 | Report abuse |
    • Doogie Browser

      Being dead cancels any chance of being alive.
      I can play stupid too.

      January 17, 2012 at 15:18 | Report abuse |
    • CDSJr

      Being alive doesn't just increase your chance of dying, it guarantees it!

      January 17, 2012 at 15:50 | Report abuse |
  4. unhanon

    What is not mentioned in this article, or in the comments I have read so far (sorry, didn't get all the way through them!), is the difference in headphones over the past few years. The article and the comments focus mainly on the number of people who use headphones at various times. However, what has also happened is that you now have a very large number of "noise cancelling" headphones that are designed to fit more snugly and often times provide a "noise cancelling" signal to reduce the ability of outside noise to disturb your listening. I would hazard a guess that the majority of those involved in accidents (especially those hit by trains) were wearing this type of headphone.

    January 17, 2012 at 14:56 | Report abuse | Reply
    • GB

      I agree! And, its really hard to find "open air" hanger ear buds too. I know because I keep trying to find a good set. I don't like wearing the in-ear buds when I walk just for the reason that I do not feel safe.

      January 17, 2012 at 15:07 | Report abuse |
    • Devil's advocate

      I guess some people need to hear the traffic or hazzard before walking both ways. I like to drive blindfolded just for fun!!

      January 17, 2012 at 15:43 | Report abuse |
    • Devil's advocate

      walking meant looking
      oops i was distracted by my media devices.

      January 17, 2012 at 15:57 | Report abuse |
  5. Tony

    Another headline for this could be:
    Number of boneheads triple...

    January 17, 2012 at 15:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Will

    Stupid is as stupid does....

    January 17, 2012 at 15:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Ca Ed

    So this bumps walking with your head up your a$$ down a notch in the statistics?

    January 17, 2012 at 15:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Pam

    @wassup, it may not be that people need to be constantly entertained. It may be that listening to music makes exercising more enjoyable (palatable?). I always run with headphones and when I walk by myself I listen to music then too. It helps with my time while running and keeps me walking at a brisker clip when walking. Quiet time is good, just not when excercising.

    January 17, 2012 at 15:09 | Report abuse | Reply
    • MrsFizzy

      Like he said, "There's a time and place for everything". I agree about having music on when exercising but then for me it's provided I'm aware of my surroundings at all times too and don't have it so loud I'm not aware. Even then I'm a bit on edge just in case, so I don't tend to do it. I'll think of songs instead. 🙂

      January 17, 2012 at 15:14 | Report abuse |
  9. sharky

    Ok seriously, these people are wrapped up in their own little worlds as if the real world around them does not exist. I will admit I listen to music, it calms me down, among other things. I don't really blast it as that can have issues with my ears down the line, however when I walk busy streets or around cities while listening to music I am constantly vigilant. I look where I am going, I pay attention. If I am crossing streets, I cross when permitted OR if I cross when not supposed to cross, I look constantly as I am crossing to ensure no vehicles are coming. Frankly I am going to say this study is bogus and I am guessing a LOT is not being said instead blame is just being placed on music devices and headphones as opposed to the mindset of the people and their own faults. So great Government will step in and issue laws against inanimate objects because humans lack common sense, responsibility, and intelligence to live without the Government needing to hold their hands all the time. I am getting tired of this.

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

      I do the same t hing and I couldn't agree more.

      January 17, 2012 at 15:37 | Report abuse |
  10. Joe

    Did you know that 100 percent of people who have had a pickle will one day die?

    January 17, 2012 at 15:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. secularbear

    So they're trying to pass a "ban"? You can't legislate common sense. Anything to raise more revenue from fines I guess...

    January 17, 2012 at 15:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Lee

    I walk with my headphones in but I watch where I'm going and I always pull them out of my ears when I cross the street.

    January 17, 2012 at 15:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Doogie Browser

    Warning, coffee may be hot.

    January 17, 2012 at 15:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. DSBsky

    People need to take your heads out of your asses and pay attention. This is just plain old fashioned stupidity. At least only have one ear on when your doing things. It's nice to hear that bus honking at you "BEFORE" it hits you..

    January 17, 2012 at 15:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. gman

    I still do not understand how people can get hit by trains. The tracks are right there, they can't be missed. I live 5 miles from the closest track and can hear it when it comes in....I have a constant ringing in my ears from loud music, and have never been so distracted that I don't pay attention when I am crossing a street...

    January 17, 2012 at 15:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. koolkat9

    Well, this is not the only reason to not wear them - women could be at an extra disadvantage of being attacked by a predator if they can't hear footsteps, etc., behind them. I, for one, would not wear this while walking. Once you've been attacked once (as I have and I was not wearing a device), you are much more vigilant.

    January 17, 2012 at 15:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Thomas

    It is fun to trip people that are texting and walking though.

    January 17, 2012 at 15:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. good for them

    I hope every last one of them that are proccupied with these distractions and not paying attention to traffic die in a horrible traffic accident.

    January 17, 2012 at 15:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Mike from MI

    I wonder how deaf people survive.

    January 17, 2012 at 15:44 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Scott

      Deaf survive because we grew up looking around constantly. We have the tendency to look around before walking across streets. I am assuming that hearing people are too accustomed to music, expecting to hear vehicle approaching and didn't hear it coming.

      January 17, 2012 at 16:45 | Report abuse |
    • ctb67

      There was a case of a 15 year old deaf girl in south texas dying because she was texting and didn't hear the train coming.
      We are getting sucked into the machine. It does not surprise me however, that more males are surcombing to this phenomena.

      January 17, 2012 at 18:40 | Report abuse |
  20. D

    Did they study walking + chewing gum at the same time too?? Inquiring minds want to know!

    January 17, 2012 at 15:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Devil's advocate

    The age of electronics has changed quite a bit people; but lets be honest the explosive population growth in the last 50 years has nothing do with with the increased number of relevant deaths. What the article fails to tell you is that the number of these accidents caused by the drivers using thier iphones or texing while driving was the result of these deaths. So lets all blame it on the headphone wearing pedestrians. Let me tell you there are a number of children that almost met the business end of my car not watching what they were doing and none of them were wearing headphones. Also any noise coming into your hearing receptors has a noise canceling effect as the pevalent frquency is the dominant one and in some cases not having headphones is just as deadly as having them. No one can be 100% aware of thier surrondings and we were all given a natural ability to sense danger like a wild animal but many passenges and drivers have learned to ignore that and my theory is it is the news media; not entertainment media, that has dulled our senses and made us immune to danger and compasion.

    January 17, 2012 at 15:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. smc

    I only wear headphones when I'm at home, mostly while doing work around the house or yard. I would never consider wearing headphones walking, running or biking along streets or sidewalks. Yet I see these idiots doing it all the time – particularly runners and bicyclers.

    And I'd be the first to tell you I fully support people being able to be on the phone with a hands-free device in the car (provided you don't have a history of being distracted by such use). But covering your ears and blaring the music in – no way, never!

    January 17, 2012 at 15:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. ghjghgjg

    Look both ways before you cross a street....this isn't rocket science, most people learn this when they are like 3.

    January 17, 2012 at 15:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. edge

    Oh great... something else for idiot politicians to knee-jerk ban. Forget about "voting ourselves money". We are voting ourselves into fascism.

    January 17, 2012 at 15:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Dave in Jax, FL

    Darwinism at its best.

    January 17, 2012 at 15:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Monica

    Survival of the fittest at work.

    January 17, 2012 at 16:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Arrowdog

    Two other factors to consider to complicate the problem. 1. The new (at least in NY) "stop for pedestrian" crosswalk. People just charge right out into moving traffic counting on the vehicle, bus, etc. to stop. Yeah.... #2. Have you ever watched people in a public place walk over a electrical cable (or like) that has been properly covered and the cover painted with fluorescent eye-catching paint ? At least 50% will still trip over it. Couple items #1 and #2 with headphones – then you explain the increase in accidents. People walking around in "utopia".

    January 17, 2012 at 16:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. eman

    This has been an issue ever since the the Walkman became popular. Why not also mention idiot bicyclists who ride with headphones, even though it is illegal in most states.

    January 17, 2012 at 16:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Roger Ogilvy Thornhill

    Yeah, but there are hardly any ghetto blasters disrupting the environment. Ubiquitous headphones are a boon to the soundscape.

    January 17, 2012 at 16:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Andrew Stillwell

    Firsthand experience. I was riding the train from Raleigh NC to Washington and the train we were on hit and killed someone walking on the tracks with their headphones blaring.

    January 17, 2012 at 16:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Karen

    I really don't have any sympathy. Accidents like this can be avoided if people are aware of your surroundings. If someone remains glued to their phone and/or music player and walks blindly through streets and has an accident I call that "Natural Selection".

    January 17, 2012 at 16:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. td40

    So you're saying that one is more likely to have some sort of pedestrian or traffic accident when they have something blasting in there ears that decreases their ability to be fully aware of what's going on around them?

    Slow news day, I guess.

    January 17, 2012 at 16:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. Bob - Atlanta GA

    Could part of the rise in fatalities be that drivers are reacting more slowly due to driving and texting or talking on cell phones?!?!?

    January 17, 2012 at 16:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. Lee Van Cleef

    these people probably have trouble walking and chewing gum at the same time too, but we didn't hear about a rise in the rate of people biting their tongues.

    January 17, 2012 at 16:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. Tom-S

    Did they even look at the number of pedestrians who were struck without wearing headphones? I'd bet an Iphone the number is greater by at least a factor of 20.

    January 17, 2012 at 16:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Jimbo

    Here comes more laws on top of the more laws they past last year with more laws coming in the future all becuase they want to protect us like we are children. Pretty soon regular coke will be illegal and only diet free caffiene free coke will be allowed, we won't be able to get butter on our popcorn, skiing and mountain biking will be banned, no more football, no driving in the snow, no sledding........OH it will be wonderful! We will all be so safe thanks to our mommy state government.

    January 17, 2012 at 16:33 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Pika

      For every law that is passed they should have to get rid of an old law.

      January 17, 2012 at 16:36 | Report abuse |
  37. Grog Says

    Grog see peedestrian with ear phones 5 points.
    10 points if dey run.
    beep beep, bang. ha ha ha.

    January 17, 2012 at 16:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. Angel

    How can you not hear a train coming? This sounds like Darwin's theory of natural selection.

    January 17, 2012 at 16:49 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Paul

      Sound diminishes as the square of the distance. A train a quarter mile away cannot be heard. At 60mph, a train travels that distance in 15 seconds. If the ear buds are at 80 db, their sound will drown the train out until it is almost on top of you, too late to react. Railroaders know that you never step between the rails without looking both ways. You can't depend on your ears to warn you.

      January 17, 2012 at 17:26 | Report abuse |
    • Pika

      It 'sounds' like walking down the railroad tracks should be illegal....oh wait it is.

      January 17, 2012 at 17:28 | Report abuse |
  39. theotormon

    Can't do nothin' fun no more.

    January 17, 2012 at 16:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. Paul

    It may be a way of improving the gene pool.

    January 17, 2012 at 17:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. me138

    clearly we need our government to save us and pass a bill no walking and listening.

    January 17, 2012 at 17:17 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Burbank

      And billions of dollars worth of safety fences too! Let's see how much tax money we can waste on bubble wapping idiots!

      January 17, 2012 at 17:36 | Report abuse |
  42. dennis

    Darwins Law holds true. These are most likely the same people who text while driving.

    January 17, 2012 at 17:21 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Burbank

      The only problem with texting is they take out the inteligent ones with them when they cause accidents.

      January 17, 2012 at 17:37 | Report abuse |
  43. iphoneguy

    These people! If you are going to die, you will die no matter what. YOu could be sitting on the bus stop minding your business with your iphone in your briefcase, and a car or the bus would lose control and run you over. You could be in your house watching tv and a lose bullet hit you in the head. So many things can happen without even wearing a headset, and here are these people trying to lecture those who do wear headsets. Please mind your own business and live a happy live. Forget about how others decide to live their lives.

    January 17, 2012 at 17:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. Mike

    This article discusses what I saw occur in Anaheim, Calif., last year. Some teen rocking out to his IPhone stepped into the crosswalk on a busy street, not realizing the light was green. Thankfully, the driver of the car that was about to hit him slammed on the brakes and stopped just short of hitting the guy. Never saw someone jump so quickly back onto the curb. Hope he learned a lesson about becoming entranced with the music while walking.

    January 17, 2012 at 17:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. K Engelhardt

    This is what I would call a "Well, DUH!" article. I didn't even read it. This is just...common sense. Darwin awards!

    January 17, 2012 at 17:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. mike

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

    If it's stupid, that's pretty much your demographic.

    January 17, 2012 at 17:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. Burbank

    Whatever happened to looking both ways before you cross? And it's only basic common sense to know better than to walk down railroad tracks to start with, let alone with blasting head phones on. We can't bubble wrap everyone. If these grown teens and adults choose to do something that every 6 year old knows is wrong and just plain stupid, then let them get their Darwin Awards. We don't need people like that contributing to our grossly overpopulated gene pool!

    January 17, 2012 at 17:33 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Anon

      I was looking for this comment out of all of them you are the only one with commen reasoning and to that i thank you.

      January 18, 2012 at 09:29 | Report abuse |
  48. Glenn

    Evolution at work? 21 yo males are taken out of the gene pool.

    January 17, 2012 at 17:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. Thank You CNN

    I am so glad CNN has published this article!! But more awareness is needed! I see people walking in my neighborhood at night with head phones on and I think to myself you are a walking target for any person who wants to rob, rape or abduct you! People are so damn stupid these days it is scary! I was taught at a young age to always be aware of your surroundings and I preach this to my children regularly! I don't care what type of neighborhood you live in! Keep your eyes and ears open at all times because that is your number one sensory awareness alarm! It can save your life!!!

    January 17, 2012 at 17:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. Tripped and didnt die

    I'm waiting to see the public service commercial concerning walking and using Ipods. Again, this could happen to anyone with anything. Watch where your going people!

    January 18, 2012 at 09:23 | Report abuse | Reply
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