The Department of Pediatrics at the University of Maryland Hospital for Children and the University of Maryland School of Medicine teamed up at the end of 2011 to conduct research about the dangers that come with pedestrians who walk while having on a pair of headphones. Their concern was that so much attention had been given to the issue of distracted drivers, but very little had been given to the many who simply walk without acknowledging the steps ahead. According to their study of 116 reported deaths or injuries between 2004 and 2011 from pedestrians wearing headphones, 55% of the cases involved trains and 29% involved cases where the driver (of the train or car) gave a warning via horn. In the grand scheme of things, there are an average of 4,500 pedestrians who are either killed or injured every year as part of a documented traffic accident, which is to say that a mere 116 deaths/injuries over the course of 8 years is barely an issue.
Still, while researchers agree that “causal relationships cannot be proven,” their work leaves plenty of room for speculation about pedestrian safety when it comes to the use of mobile devices that ultimately distract walkers and runners from the honks and beeps of oncoming traffic. Apparently, New Jersey has even gone so far as to outlaw texting while walking with a fine of $85 per incident. Why? Because text-walking leads to jaywalking (crossing a road at a location other than the visible crosswalk), which endangers everyone in a 30 yard radius.
The research serves as a vindication of some obvious truths. If we distract ourselves from the most important realities of safety that we teach our children, such as “look both ways before crossing the street” or “watch where you’re going”, then the likelihood of injury or an even more grave fatality will go without saying at some point.
Be careful out there. Maybe New Jersey is onto something.
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