"People wearing headphones need to be conscious of the outside environment and risk of moving vehicles, because not only are you distracted by the music, but also the sounds of traffic or horns or sirens are blocked," Lichenstein said. Experts label this type of distraction "inattentional blindness."
Commenting on the study, Dr. Carl Schulman, director of Injury Prevention Education at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, pointed to an earlier study suggesting that any form of impaired hearing can raise a person's injury risk.
In a 1995 New Zealand study involving almost 200 children, those with (natural) hearing problems had an increased risk of being hit by a car, compared with children with normal hearing, Schulman noted.
This is similar to having one's hearing intentionally blocked by music coming from headphones, so it is not surprising that the new study saw a similar pattern among people plugged into MP3 players, Schulman said.
Lichenstein said the way to reduce the risk is simple. "Be cognizant of the environment. Know there is risk out there. It's not a great idea to be distracted and it's not a great idea to shut out those sounds that may help you live another day," he said.
For more information on pedestrian safety, visit Safe Kids U.S.A..
SOURCES: Richard Lichenstein, M.D., associate professor of pediatrics, Pediatric Emergency Medicine Research, University of Maryland Children's Hospital, Baltimore; Carl Schulman, M.D., director, Injury Prevention Education, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine; Jan. 16, 2012, Injury Prevention, online
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