Number of “iPod zombies” triples, according to US study


By Alessandro Brunelli


Scientists found the number of pedestrians injured while wearing headphones was rising (Picture by Berthold Werner)

The number of pedestrians injured while listening to headphones has tripled over the last six years, a US study found out.

The data follows a similar analysis from the Automobile Association, which had estimated that inattention due the use of headphones could have been cause of 17 collisions a day in the period 2009/2010.

The American study, published Monday on Injury Prevention, a peer-reviewed journal for health professionals, proved that two-thirds of injured music listeners were males under the age of 30.

American researchers, using data coming from a number of sources, such as the American National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Google, News archives and Westlaw Campus Research, counted a total of 47 dead or injured pedestrians wearing headphones in 2010 and 2011.

The figures marked a dramatic rise from the 16 deaths in 2004 and 2005, and also showed that 55 percent of the victims were hit by trains, and very often (70 percent of the cases) resulted in a death of the listener.


Predictably, most incidents (89 percent) occurred in urban areas, and warnings such as horns, which had been reported going off in 29 percent of the cases, sometimes were not enough to spare a life.

Researchers suggested that two possible reasons for the connection between the use of headphones and incidents were sensory deprivation and distraction, often referred to as “inattentional blindness”, a term which denotes a lack of attention to what’s going on around us.

The study, which didn’t include data relating to injured mobile phone users, leaves room for further future analysis.

The authors avoided making direct connections between the use of headphones and pedestrian risk, and while they hinted that hearing what’s happening in the environment around us may be more important than visual cues, they also added that other reasons such as intoxicated pedestrians or drivers errors could have been involved.

The study concluded that “The use of headphones with handheld devices may pose a safety risk to pedestrians, especially in environments with moving vehicles. Further research is needed to determine if and how headphone use compromises pedestrian safety.”

Edmund King, president of the AA, also commented on the Injury Prevention study, saying:

“We can’t stop the march of technology but we need to halt the iPod pedestrian, cycle and driver zombies.  Whether on two feet, two wheels or four, too many people are suffering from iPod oblivion.

“When on the move our brains have much to take in and using technological gadgets means that our brains can’t always concentrate on so many things at once.   This is when we walk into traffic; don’t hear the truck or drive cocooned from the outside world.

“The US research suggests that this problem may be growing so we all need to use common sense to ensure that technological cocooning doesn’t endanger our lives or the lives of others.”