Headphones Can Kill You!

Headphones Can Be Deadly! For the last six months or so I've been subscribed to a number of news feeds about headphones, and I simply can't believe the number of times someone is injured or killed while listening to their tunes. Let me give you a few examples ...


March 20, 2011: Man hit and killed by train in Madera, CA.

March 17, 2011: University student killed while crossing railway line in South Africa.

February 13, 2011: Man with headphones killed by train.

December 17, 2010: Man wearing headphones hit and killed by train.

December 6, 2010: Teen wearing headphones killed by train in western Pennsylvania.

November 26, 2010: Woman killed by train in Seattle.


March 9, 2011: 42-year-old Baldwin Park man struck, killed crossing street

December 7, 2010: Headphones may have distracted killed walker.

November 4, 2010: Woman killed while jogging in Milton-Freewater; sheriff warns about headphones.


May 19, 2008: Helicopter death spurs headphone debate.

It's hard to blame a guy for not getting out of the way of a crashing helicopter ... but it's getting easier and easier to blame the headphones. Also in the news in the last year have been legislative attempts to ban headphone use for pedestrians:

In Arkansas: Lawmaker wants to ban headphones on pedestrians

In New York: States' Lawmakers Turn Attention to the Dangers of Distracted Pedestrians

In Portland: Headphone bill to get public hearing.

There's no doubt all these lists will continue to grow. :(

Your hearing is a marvelous early warning system. It evolved to allow you to focus your attention on munching a banana or picking nits off your buddy while subconsciously monitoring the acoustic world for threats. Well ... it evolved, or God did it. In either case, your hearing is an excellent and important system for keeping you out of danger. With headphones on, you are left without your early warning system, and because it's somewhat sub-conscious, you really don't feel it's loss. If you are wearing dark sunglasses and walk into a dimly lit building, you recognize immediately you need to take your glasses off. But when you put on a pair of headphones you are not nearly so consciously aware of your loss of hearing.

So ...


Know, and know deeply and habitually that you've got to keep your head on a swivel and pay attention. Be aware of the need to act differently, and make a habit of visually checking around yourself on an ongoing basis. Not just crossing the street, but in parking lots, bike paths, and parks. (Plenty of joggers hit by bicycles, too.)

Don't really know what to say about helicopters. Just be careful, okay?

Grahame's picture

Headphones can provide a sanctuary from reality, say on a noisy commute, or relaxing at home at the end of a stressful day.

Surviving in an environment with threats that can kill you demands situational awareness.

If you can't determine where headphone use is appropriate, maybe you do deserve a Darwin Award.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
...they got their reward alright.

Stakes are pretty high out there.

Be careful, folks.

Stosh's picture

I use headphones from time to time; I find that they can be quite useful and enjoyable in some circumstances. But I never understood why people use them while running or jogging (or walking outdoors, for that matter).

Maybe it is different in an urban environment; I do my running in a rural area. For me, part of the enjoyment I get from my runs is the sounds of the environment around me. I like to hear the wind in the fields and trees, and the birds chirping as I run my course. I even like to hear my own breathing and the sound of my feet on the grass, gravel, pavement, or whatever surface I am running on.

The sounds of the world around me, and my own sounds, add to the pleasure I get from my runs. Blocking those sounds with headphones playing music makes absolutely no sense to me. Using headphones to listen to music at home, on a bus, subway, or ariplane I can understand. But when I see peole use them to isolate themselves from the natural environment, well, that just baffles me.

DaBomb77766's picture

Some places can be pretty different. In some cities, there isn't much pleasant ambience at all. Of course, in those cities, it could be dangerous to jog without headphones...

Still, I'm extremely careful when I have my headphones on. I've been in China for the past few months and wear my IEMs everywhere. The traffic here is probably the worst in any country in the world...not just the amount of traffic, but the insane-ness of the drivers. I've never had any close calls or anything, I always watch out, and actually seem to be more perceptive of my surroundings than most without headphones.

wcacho's picture

If we use headphones at standard volume level, it is not harmful.