The number of serious injuries suffered by pedestrians wearing headphones is apparently on the up. With a fear of blowing this US study out of proportion – are headphones a high street safety risk?
The study by the University of Maryland researchers found that serious injuries to headphone wearers had tripled in the US between 2004 and 2011.
However, the word ‘tripled’ exaggerates the actual numbers – there were 16 injuries in 2004-2005, which grew to 47 in 2010-11 (excluding people using mobiles).
Nevertheless, it would be wrong to ignore the increase, as over two-thirds of these accidents resulted in the person dying. Most of the victims were men (68%) and under the age of 30 (67%) – and you’ll be unsurprised to hear that the great majority of these cases happened in urban areas, with over half of the victims being hit by trains.
Turning down my headphone use
So, that’s the US study out of the way, the question is whether there’s been a similar rise in the UK. That’s not a question I can answer, though a rise in UK road deaths has previously been blamed on cyclists wearing iPods.
As headphones get better at blocking sound out, the harder it becomes for people to hear traffic when they’re out and about.
I used to be a big public headphone user, with a good in-ear pair being my amp of choice. The advantage of in-ear buds is that they’re better at blocking out outside noise, which in turn means you don’t need to have them on as loud.
However, a constant ringing in my ears (tinnitus) and a growing fondness for hearing the world around me, has changed my mind. Now headphone wearers are starting to grind my gears.
Turning up my anti-headphone rant
Get ready for my Victor Meldrew outburst… I don’t want to hear your terrible taste of music while I’m commuting on the Tube. Even if I’m a fan of the track you’re playing, the tinny sound that’s seeping out of your headphones is a travesty.
But what’s the biggest thing that gets me tangled up in frustration? When I’m trying to walk at pace through high street crowds, I constantly get stuck behind pedestrians wearing headphones. It’s not their fault – they just can’t hear me coming.
And it’s even more maddening when they’re often walking to the slow tempo of whatever tune that’s blurring into their brain. They can’t even hear you politely say ‘excuse me’ – they’re oblivious, and a careful case of side-stepping is always required to overtake.
Research last year actually discovered that people who play positive music through headphones enjoy a noticeable reduction in their personal space – they don’t care about people rubbing up against them on the Tube. For that, I say good for them.
But back to the safety issue. If you’re walking on the high street and listening to music on your headphones, please take out at least one earbud when you’re about to cross the road. What ever happened to Stop, Look and Listen?