Maryland Personal Injury Update: Personal Electronics Contributing to Pedestrian Deaths

We would start an entry like this most likely with the admonition, “Parents, please keep a close eye on your children….” However, the topic today can hardly be targeted at just one age group. As personal injury attorneys, the issue we’d like to address is the dangerous environment that personal electronics is creating for not just preteens and teenagers all across the country, but also younger children, older adults and nearly everyone in between. The problem is distraction, not just on the road, but in the store, on the train platform, while walking on the sidewalk, and while crossing a busy intersection.

The fact is, too many people are allowing themselves to be totally engrossed in the smartphone-iPad-Kindle world of personal information devices. Having been children in an earlier life, and even now as adults, we can understand the magnetic draw that these devices have on almost anyone who picks them up. Never in our history have humans had at their disposal a veritable cornucopia of information, entertainment and communication options all at the touch of a smartphone or tablet screen.

But is being entertained; is searching for a diversion from real life so important that it can literally lead to one’s own death? Here in the U.S., we celebrate the freedoms that many throughout the world have yet to enjoy. But the freedom to do something, such as listen to one’s favorite song catalogue while biking to work doesn’t obviate the need to be attentive to one’s surroundings. Of late, the news media would seem obsessed over the seeming negligence of texting while driving. But these same people who text and drive also jog and chat, as well as walk and read.

Distractions have been around for millennia and, as human beings, our curiosity has quite frequently gotten the best of many of us. With personal electronics being so ubiquitous, affordable and universally mesmerizing, it’s really not a surprise that people are being injured and killed on a more and more frequent basis all because they have lost touch with the world around them. Escapism is all well and good, but to escape in the midst of everyday dangers and hazards is either foolhardy or self-destructive.

What brought us to this topic is a study that points to use of earbuds (like very small headphones, if you are older than 40) as being a major factor in the near trebling of “headphone”-related deaths and injuries over the past half-dozen years or so. As Maryland personal injury lawyers, we find this trend more than little concerning, since these accidents could typically be avoided; meaning, of course, that the resulting bodily injuries or the untimely death of those individuals could also have been circumvented had someone been more attentive or concerned about the situation.

Case in point, a 40-year-old man from who was hit by a commuter train apparently did not hear it approaching because he was apparently listening to music as he strolled home along the tracks in the middle of the afternoon. In another instance, a teenage Maryland girl was hit by an Amtrak train as she was listening to a personal electronic device with a pair of headphones. That accident, by the way, was the catalyst for the aforementioned study headed by Dr. Richard Lichenstein, director of pediatric emergency medicine research at the University of Maryland.

As part of the study, which was included in the January issue of the journal Injury Prevention, researchers stated that of the 116 headphone-related accidents studied — spanning from 2004 to 2011– there were more than 80 fatalities involving pedestrians. Of those 80-odd victims, 64 were struck by trains. And the annual number have been creeping up ever since; back in 2004-2005 there were 16 headphone-related incidents, while the latest available statistics showed that number had grown to 47 in the period of 2010-2011.

Now of course, many of these accidents involved trains, but we all have seen enough people walking, jogging, cycling and driving while wearing headphones or earbuds to know that the danger of not hearing traffic or anything else in the surrounding environment cannot be a good thing. Worse accidents have happened with less of a distraction, which means that closing oneself off from the outside world can cause the outside world to take its toll on those who ignore certain warning signs.

The point we would like to make here is to simply suggest caution and a modicum of common sense when venturing out into traffic as a pedestrian or a driver. Don’t’ assume that everyone, or for that matter anyone, is looking out for your well-being. Even though it’s a two-way street, but “dead right” is not much consolation no matter how the chips fall. Don’t allow yourself or someone you love to become a statistic in the next study on how to reduce traffic-related fatalities.

Ear buds increasing volume of accidents,, April 20, 2012

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