Eyes open

Recent research from the University of Maryland points to growing numbers of pedestrians injured or killed while wearing headphones. According to the findings, published on Jan. 17 in Injury Prevention, the danger lies in two phenomena.

From 2004 to 2011, 116 accidents involving headphones were reported and 81 of them were fatal. Over the study period, the rate of accidents per year tripled.

It’s absurd. People wearing headphones need to take responsibility for their survival. It should be simple. Listen to music all you want, but don’t forget about your surroundings. Stumbling in front of a train or a car because you’re too distracted by your iPod shouldn’t happen.

To someone looking out for the public good, these numbers seem like a rising threat to the health and well-being of the populace. If the situation sounds unlikely, think back to 2009, when Ontario legislature unanimously passed a law against “distracted driving.” With legislative approval, texting or making phone calls while driving a car became illegal.

“Anything that can reduce accidents on our roadways is going to be good,” Conservative MPP Christine Elliott told the Toronto Star in April 2009.

The justification for laws against using phones while driving could easily be applied to deaths and injuries related to headphone use while walking. But the reasoning isn’t the same. Walking and wearing headphones doesn’t represent the same threat as driving while distracted.

There are significant flaws in the Injury Prevention study. Factors such as substance abuse or suicidal intentions weren’t considered when accounting for injuries and deaths. Simply aggregating information without looking at context can produce inaccurate results. Further research needs to be done before the results can be called conclusive.

The trend towards greater headphone-related injury and death doesn’t call for legislative intervention. Distraction is a danger at any given time, and it can’t be legislated away.

Headphone wearers need to be more aware of their surroundings and take care around train tracks and intersections. Life presents risks and the government can’t have a hand in protecting us from everything — particularly when it comes to risks we take by choice.

Turn your headphones up, but keep your eyes open.

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