A study released today found that the number of US pedestrians killed or badly injured while wearing headphones has almost tripled in the last six years. Not surprisingly, most of the victims are teens or young adults.
More than half of the deaths involved pedestrians being run down by trains, and many involved incidents where the train or vehicle driver were sounding a horn trying to warn the pedestrian of the potential problem.
“Everybody is aware of the risk of cell phones and texting in automobiles, but I see more and more teens distracted with the latest devices and headphones in their ears,” says lead author Richard Lichenstein, M.D., associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and director of pediatric emergency medicine research at the University of Maryland Medical Center. “Unfortunately as we make more and more enticing devices, the risk of injury from distraction and blocking out other sounds increases.”
I found the researchers’ explanation of the problem interesting. Obviously, one of the issues is that the headphones drown out the sounds of the horns and traffic. But this “sensory depravation” problem is exacerbated by distraction. Researchers call this “inattentional blindness” — where multiple stimuli divide the brain’s mental resource allocation. This depravation greatly intensifies the problems caused by the inability to clearly hear the oncoming vehicles.
I hope we can learn from the study and from the many deaths the subject of the study. We need to make a point of educating our young people about these problems. We need to let our kids know that it’s not safe to walk down the street or ride their bike while wearing headphones.
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