As society progresses and technology advances we seem to all be increasingly connected and in turn distracted. Distracted driving laws are now being considered by the national lawmakers in order to curb the thousands of distracted driving accidents, but what about distracted walking?

Whether we have a cell phone in our faces or music blasting in our ears, it seems that everyone is walking around with headphones. Though there are some people who walk around wearing headphones just to avoid talking to people on the street, the majority of people are listening to something.

Be it NPR, a podcast, or music, a new study has discovered that the number of headphone-wearing pedestrians seriously injured or killed near roadways and railways has tripled in six years.

Distracted Pedestrian Injury Research

Richard Lichenstein at the University of Maryland Hospital for Children lead a team on the study published today in the online journal Injury Prevention. Researchers collected data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Google news archives, and the Westlaw Campus Research database from Jan. 1, 2004 to June 1, 2011.

They studied 116 cases in the U.S. that involved either death or serious personal injury. Researchers discovered that the number of cases rose from 16 in 2004-2005 to 47 in 2010-2011.

Out of the 116 total cases in the study, researchers noted that 34 of the reports specifically mention horns or sirens being sounded before the victims were struck denoting that the pedestrian may have been listening to their music or program loud enough to not hear it. Of course, there was no mention on when the siren or horn was sounded.

The retrospective study revealed that there was a larger proportion of male victims (68%). Of that gender group, the data showed that 67% of the victims were under 30 years of age. Of all the accidents in the study, 55% involved trains and 89% occurred in urban areas.

“The study illustrates the dangers of using devices such as music players with headphones,” researcher’s wrote. “Sensory deprivation that results from using headphones with electronic devices may be a unique problem in pedestrian incidents, where auditory cues can be more important than visual ones.”

You may have noticed the use of Google News in the study, which is a step away from traditional scientific studies, which, the researchers noted, likely over-publishes tragic events but vastly under-publishes non-fatal cases. However, it does substantiate limited records or Researchers noted that outside factors may have also been involved including:

  • Suicidal intentions
  • Substance abuse
  • Mental illness
  • Driver error

Of the 116 cases studied, more than a third of the people were younger than age 18 and two-thirds were younger than 30.

Are Music Players More Dangers Than Walking With Cell Phones?

Sure, it’s easy to blame on distraction over another for pedestrian accidents, however, in general, life doesn’t turn out so black and white. A paper due for publication in the January 2012 issue of Safety Science by a group of cognitive scientists UC-San Diego may dispute the dangers of walking with headphones.

Researchers observed pedestrians crossing the street on the campus of the University of British Columbia, in Vancouver. Though the data isn’t out yet, preliminary reports anticipate the researchers reporting that music players had no impact on a pedestrian’s ability to cross the street.

Women showed no difference in cautionary behavior whether or not they were listening to music, while men actually paid more attention to traffic with headphones in than without any distraction.

This is in contrast to a University of Alabama at Birmingham study that gathered test walkers into a virtual street-crossing simulator, complete with ambient traffic noise piped into lab speakers. They measured how well the subjects crossed while having a cell phone conversation with one of the researchers.

Compared to when subjects that crossed without any distraction, subjects on the phone reached the other side with less time to spare, missed more opportunities to cross safely, and had more close calls. Some even got hit by a virtual car!

Researchers suggested that even though the subjects saw the danger, the information was not absorbed. It appears as though distracted pedestrians may move their heads to look left and right before crossing, but fail to actually capture and/or process the information necessary to cross safely.

Washington Pedestrian Accident Attorney

These discoveries in no way exonerate drivers from driving distracted or just overall not paying attention, however, responsibility is a two way street. Yet, the weight of responsibility not on those walking down the street, but those driving a ton of steel at high speeds down the road.

If you or a loved one have been in a pedestrian injury accident it is important that you find legal representation right away to help you with insurance companies, health care providers, and especially legal issues. Call the Seattle Pedestrian Accident Lawyers at Phillips Law Firm for a consultation.