Perhaps this is old fuddy-duddy thinking, but every time I see someone walking down the street with earphones on, oblivious to their surroundings, I worry. Not about the things that my parents worried about – that rock ’n’ roll would ruin my mind and turn me into a drug-addict zombie – but about the real danger: accidents.
Guess what? A recent study bears this out.
Researchers analyzing accident statistics found the number of accidents involving people wearing earphones has tripled since 2004. More and more of these are serious. In 2010, almost 50 people, mostly teenagers and young adults, were hit by a car or train because of earphones. Half of them died.
This may seem like a small number of deaths, but it’s more than measles, rubella, polio and diphtheria put together. We spend a ton of money and time immunizing our kids for these diseases, but we rarely talk to them about earphone safety.
There are 50,000 automobile deaths every year and 5,000 pedestrian deaths. We hear a lot about cellphone distraction causing car accidents, but no one is talking about it from the “pedestrian” point of view. There’s something wrong here.
Why is this happening? Two things are going on. The first is earphone distraction. When you’re listening to music with your iPod, you’re not paying as much attention to your surroundings. The other side is sensory deprivation. Crank up the music and you crank down the outside noise.
The study bore that out in one grim statistic: In one of four train- pedestrian deaths, the train engineer sounded the siren before the crash. There was plenty of time for the person to step out of harm’s way had they only heard what was going on.
What to do? It’s simple. Turn down the volume so you can hear what’s going on around you. This will be good in another way – you’ll be keeping your ears fit. We know that loud sounds over time destroy hearing, especially in the high-frequency range we use to hear speech. In many factories today, people wear hearing protection for just that reason.
While I’m on a rant, I have one more thought about ear- phones and walking. I think it’s OK to do from time to time, but sometimes it’s good just to be with your own thoughts. You can let your imagination run wild, plan the day, think about that conversation you just had or listen to the birds. Even in our age of electronic distraction, silence is still golden.
Dr. Zorba Paster is a family physician, university professor, author and broadcast journalist. He also hosts a popular radio call-in program at 3 p.m. Saturdays on WBFO-FM 88.7.