Texting iPod Zombies

US study shows three-fold increase in headphone pedestrian deaths

18 January 2012

US study shows three-fold increase in headphone pedestrian deaths

US study shows three-fold increase in headphone pedestrian deaths

'iPod oblivion' can be lethal for pedestrians, cyclists and car drivers, according to the Automobile Association, as a recent US study quoted in the BMJ, shows a three-fold increase in the number of deaths involving pedestrians wearing headphones.

AA patrols have reported an increase in the number of 'iPod zombie pedestrians'and joggers oblivious to traffic around them as they cross busy roads. It is thought that pedestrians’ lack of attention may be a factor in some of the 405 pedestrian deaths last year.  Previous analysis from AA Insurance shows that pedestrian 'inattention' could be the cause of 17 collisions each day.

Insurance claims involving pedestrians

More than half of AA Insurance claims involving a pedestrian include causes such as:

  • Man on phone stepped out, wasn’t looking
  • Pedestrian just walked out
  • She looked the wrong way
  • He walked into the side of the car

On the move

It appears that more people are using communication technology on the move:

  • The businessman crossing city streets checking emails
  • The tourist finding best hotels on the latest app
  • The cyclist or jogger getting carried away to Rizzle Kicks
  • The company car driver plugged into Adele

Use of such technology on the move can lead to 'unintentional blindness' or 'divided attention' which poses great risks for road safety.  The AA is particularly concerned at reports from patrols of people broken down on the hard-shoulder of motorways, pacing backwards and forwards whilst using mobile phones.  This is incredibly dangerous with juggernauts passing just a few feet away.  Last year an 18 year old jogger was tragically killed after being hit by a train whilst wearing headphones.

We can’t stop the march of technology but we need to halt the iPod pedestrian, cycle and driver zombies

Edmund King, AA president


Edmund King, AA President, said: “We can’t stop the march of technology but we need to halt the iPod pedestrian, cycle and driver zombies.  Whether on two feet, two wheels or four, too many people are suffering from iPod oblivion.

“When on the move our brains have much to take in and using technological gadgets means that our brains can’t always concentrate on so many things at once.   This is when we walk into traffic; don’t hear the truck or drive cocooned from the outside world.

”The US research suggests that this problem may be growing so we all need to use common sense to ensure that technological cocooning doesn’t endanger our lives or the lives of others.”

AA Insurance reports that more drivers making claims for minor shunts are citing 'podestrians' or iPod wearing pedestrians as the cause.  The AA advises drivers not to wear headphones at the wheel and to be extra alert and slow down in areas frequented by pedestrians and cyclists. The AA also advises those that use MP3 devices on the streets to ensure that the volume does not override their other senses.


A US-based study, which appeared in the BMJ journal Injury Prevention, found a total of 116 reports of death or injury to pedestrians wearing headphones between 2004 and 2011, jumping from 16 in 2004/5 to 47 in 20110/11.

Most victims were men (68%) and under the age of 30 (67%), with around one in 10 of all cases (9%) under the age of 18.

Some 89% of the cases occurred in urban areas and more than half (55%) of the victims were struck by trains.

Eighty-one of the 116 collisions (70%) resulted in the person dying - even though a warning such as a siren was sounded in around a third of the cases.

An examination of AA Insurance claims in the year up to 30 July 2010, shows that customers were involved in 177 pedestrian 'inattention' collisions.  The rate is fairly static at between 12 and 16 per month.  This is up 5% over the previous year. This is based on approximately 1m customers so if this was reflected in the driving population as a whole there could be more than 6,000 pedestrian 'inattention' collisions per year or 17 per day.

(2 February 2012)