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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California
Spotlight

Headphone-Wearing Pedestrians at Risk, Study Finds

It is well known that distracted driving is dangerous, but what about distracted walking?

It is well known that distracted driving is dangerous, but what about distracted walking?

Pedestrian Catherine Jagos said she was wearing headphones and almost got in an accident.

"There was one time where I was going to enter an intersection and a car skipped the red light and was going to hit me," she said.

A recent study from the online journal, Injury Prevention, found the number of headphone-wearing pedestrians injured or killed by a moving vehicle tripled from 2004 to 2011. Researchers looked at pedestrian accident data from a variety of sources and found the majority of walkers struck were male (68%) and under the age of 30 (67%).

The Los Angeles Police Department has seen distracted walking as a matter of life and death, a statistic they say can be prevented.

"If that phone call is so important that you have to make as a pedestrian, stop on the sidewalk where it's safe, finish your conversation," Detective Bill Boustos said.

Boustos warned that even though pedestrians have the right away, they still may not be safe to cross the street.

"The pedestrian has to be cautious in being alert while crossing the street because we don't want them to be dead right," Boustos said.

In this study, a warning could have been heard in 29 percent of accident. Researchers aren't exactly sure what can make distracted pedestrians more susceptible to accidents, but they believe the brain may get too distracted by headphones to notice any signs of danger.

"There's a concept called inattention blindness," Dr. Hamid Djalilian of the University of California Irvine Department of Otolaryngology said. "So if you're attention is focused on one thing you're not going to pay attention to other things that are going on around you."

Dr. Djalilian recommends pedestrians enjoy the music as a background sound, otherwise environmental isolation may go into affect.

"You won't hear oncoming traffic, you won't hear a honking horn," Dr. Djalilian said.

However there are limitations to this study. According to Dr. Djalilian, there isn't enough data on accidents that don't involve headphones to conclude that headphones impair a pedestrian's attention.

Tanner Blackman who takes the subway to work everyday hasn't had a problem. "I don't turn them up very loud when I'm walking down the street so I can still hear people talking and the cars around me," Blackman said.

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