The health risks of headphones and earbuds have been clearly linked to hearing loss, but a new study concludes that wearing headphones is a significant factor in pedestrian accidents, including death by train.

Researchers at the University of Maryland parsed data on pedestrian injuries and deaths from contact with moving vehicles and found that not only does wearing headphones pose a higher risk, but also that such incidents have tripled over the past few years.

Results were published in the British medical journal Injury Prevention.

My motivation in doing this study started when I reviewed the death of a Maryland teen who died by being hit by a train while wearing headphones, said the study's lead author, Richard Lichenstein, Director of Pediatric Emergency Medicine Research at the University of Maryland Hospital for Children. I had noted increased usage of MP3 and iPod players with headphones by young adults and thought that this may be an increasing safety problem.

Lichenstein and his team studied data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Google news, and the legal database Westlaw and found 116 cases from 2004 to 2011 in which headphone-wearing pedestrians had been injured or killed by moving vehicles.

Most of the accidents - 89 percent - occurred in urban areas. The majority of victims were male and under the age of 30.  And, to Lichenstein's surprise, 55 percent of them were struck by trains.

In a third of cases, there were alarms sounded prior to the event, Lichenstein said.

This research is a wonderful example of taking what our physicians see every day in the hospital and applying a broader scientific view to uncover a troubling societal problem that needs greater awareness, University of Maryland School of Medicine dean E. Albert Reece said in a statement. I hope that these results will help to significantly reduce incidence of injuries and lead us to a better understanding of how such injuries occur and how we can prevent them.

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