Headphones increase fatality risk in car-pedestrian accidents

After it was learned that a teenager who had been killed by a train was listening to headphones when he walked onto the railroad tracks, researchers wanted to determine whether headphones play a part in auto-pedestrian accidents, injuries and fatalities. What they found was surprising. Serious injuries to pedestrians who were wearing headphones at the time of a car accident have more than tripled in less than a decade, and such accidents are highly likely to be fatal.

The study involved a review of about 120 car accident cases from 2004 to 2011 in which walkers, bicyclists or other pedestrians wearing headphones were hit by trains or motor vehicles. In more than two-thirds of the accidents studied, the pedestrians were suffered fatal injuries.

In approximately 30 percent of the accidents, the driver or train operator reported sounding a horn just before the crash. But because the pedestrian was wearing headphones, he or she was unable to hear the horn and avoid the accident.

The majority of the victims in the accidents studied were males under the age of 30, which correlates with a demographic that is likely to be wearing headphones, according to the report. "The increased incidence of accidents over the years closely corresponds to documented rising popularity of auditory technologies with headphones," the researchers wrote.

What is most troubling about the increase in car accidents involving headphone-wearing pedestrians is that most of the crashes result in a fatality. The pedestrian was killed in more than 90 of the 120 accidents studied, which is about a 75 percent fatality rate.

Source: USA Today, "Study: More headphone-wearing walkers hit by cars," Chris Woodyard, Jan. 17, 2012

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