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UMD Study Looks At Perils Of 'Distracted Walking'

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There were 116 pedestrian accidents nationwide involving people wearing headphones in the past six years, according to a new study.
Brennan Somers
There were 116 pedestrian accidents nationwide involving people wearing headphones in the past six years, according to a new study.

Listening to music on headphones while walking or biking to work may help pass the time, but there's concern over of the dangers of what some are calling "distracted walking."

Between 2004 and 2011, there were 116 deaths or injuries reported nationwide of pedestrians wearing headphones, according to a University of Maryland study published this week. 

District resident Robin Smith learned the hard way what can happen when headphones become distracting. Smith was biking with headphones in, listening to the beat of the music, when someone stepped out in front of him, forcing him to swerve into the street.

"And as I was riding into the street, a car went 'vroom' right next to me, like almost sideswiped me," he said. Now Smith travels without headphones and encourages others to do the same.

"It's kind of like talking on the cell phone and driving," he said as he locked up his bike in Tenleytown recently. "People still do it, but it's known to be dangerous." 

In nearly one-third of the cases in the UMD study, a warning — such as a car horn — sounded before the crash. But Max Mathaeus, who was crossing Wisconsin Avenue with headphones in his ears on a recent afternoon, said it's those outside sounds he blocks out by wearing headphones.

"I walk most places, and so it just gets boring without them," he says. "I try to have it cancel out most of the sound that I hear."

Earlier this year, D.C.'s Council for Court Excellence called for a ban of pedestrian use of cellphones, headphones, and electronic devices while crossing streets.

Currently, there is no law prohibiting the use of these devices while walking in the District.

The District Department of Transportation says there are an average of 650 pedestrian accidents each year in the city; approximately 15 of those result in pedestrian deaths.

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