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Headphone-wearing pedestrians pose road risk, study says

There's no question that pedestrians are some of the most vulnerable people on the road. Without so much as a helmet to protect them from cars skidding around in bad weather or distracted drivers, they can be injured in a car accident quickly and seriously if they don't see a vehicle approaching. Why wouldn't they? Perhaps because many of them are distracted themselves.

A new study from the University of Maryland School of Medicine has found that headphone-wearing pedestrians are the biggest road hazard facing drivers today. Serious injuries to pedestrians wearing headphones have more than tripled in the past six years. And because their music drowns out most train and car horns, pedestrians have died in almost three quarters of 116 accident cases over seven years.

Those who block out the world around them most often are teenage boys, according to the study, which was released this week. The study's lead author looked at 116 accidents from 2004 to 2011 in which pedestrians were hit by trains or vehicles. More than two-thirds of the victims were males under the age of 30. More than 50 percent of the accidents involved trains, and nearly one-third of the vehicles' drivers reported sounding a horn before the crash. Seventy percent of the cases were fatal.

Since the dawn of radio, someone has been telling young people to turn down the music. But never before has the message been so dire. The study's lead author, who is an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, said he decided to study the accident rates of headphone-wearing pedestrians after a local teen was fatally struck by a train while crossing railroad tracks. His music apparently drowned out the sound of the train's horn. The author hopes the study will act as a warning for parents and their teens that failure to pay attention to their surroundings could land them in the emergency room -- or worse.

Source: Edmunds Inside Line, "Headphone-Using Pedestrians Are a Serious Road Danger, Study Says," Rene Wisely, Jan. 19, 2012

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