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Headphone use and pedestrian injury and death in the United States: 2004–2011
  1. Richard Lichenstein1,
  2. Daniel Clarence Smith2,
  3. Jordan Lynne Ambrose2,
  4. Laurel Anne Moody3
  1. 1Department of Pediatrics, University of Maryland Hospital for Children, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland, USA
  2. 2University of Maryland Medical Center, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland, USA
  3. 3Office of Health Services, Baltimore County Public Schools, Baltimore, Maryland, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Richard Lichenstein, Director, Pediatric Emergency Medicine Research, University of Maryland Hospital for Children, 22 South Greene Street, Baltimore, MD 21201, USA; rlichenstein{at}


Background The association between distraction caused by cell phone use while driving and driver/passenger fatalities has been documented, but the safety risks associated with headphone use by pedestrians remains unknown.

Objective To identify and describe pedestrian–vehicle crashes in which the pedestrian was using headphones.

Methods A retrospective case series was conducted by searching the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, US Consumer Product Safety Commission, Google News Archives and Westlaw Campus Research databases for reports published between 2004 and 2011 of pedestrian injuries or fatalities from crashes involving trains or motor vehicles. Cases involving headphones were extracted and summarised. The likelihood of headphone involvement was graded on a three-tier scale based on the information found in the article or report.

Results There were 116 reports of death or injury of pedestrians wearing headphones. The majority of victims were male (68%) and under the age of 30 (67%). The majority of vehicles involved in the crashes were trains (55%), and 89% of cases occurred in urban counties. 74% of case reports stated that the victim was wearing headphones at the time of the crash. Many cases (29%) mentioned that a warning was sounded before the crash.

Conclusions 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.

  • Distraction
  • pedestrian safety
  • traffic accident prevention
  • adolescent
  • ems
  • violence
  • pedestrian
  • passenger
  • adolescent
  • pedestrian
  • case study
  • sensory impairment

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  • An additional appendix is published online only. To view this file please visit the journal online (

  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.