Wednesday, January 26, 2011

I Can See This

Brazilian runner with a profound longing for death (via KaiChanVong)
The New York Times has identified a new and terrifying menace -- people who walk or run while wearing headphones. At the risk of attenuating the horror, I note the story's statistics are confused [emphases mine in all citations below]:
Pedestrian fatalities increased slightly for the first time in four years in the first six months of 2010, according to a report released last week by the Governors Highway Safety Association ...
Deaths are on the rise, or they were for six months. Cower! Whimper! And yet --
Nationally, pedestrian traffic fatalities had dropped to 4,091 in 2009 from 4,892 in 2005, the report stated.
Oh. Somehow, 2009 -- evidently the last year for which full-year records exist -- saw a record low in pedestrian deaths, even as it was, for its time, the most MP3-player-rich year in human history.

A report in the WaPo confirms we are not being visited by a Plague of Pedestrian Deaths in the MP3 Age:
Pedestrian fatalities account for 12 percent of all roadway deaths - 4,092 in 2009 ... That year, overall traffic deaths dropped to their lowest level in 60 years.
Back to the NYT, though -- hair on fire!
“One of the reasons we think the trend may be turning negatively is because of distracted pedestrians,” said Jonathan Adkins, spokesman for the safety group.
To summarize the statistics presented: after 60 years of improvement, the first half of 2010 saw a slight uptick in pedestrian deaths. If you're not wetting yourself at that -- cheeks and pants -- you're not paying attention. Focus, damn you! Take off those headphones!

If we are to endure as a species, the only sensible response is to adopt Jonathan Adkins's speculation -- his "one of the reasons we think" stuff -- as established fact and ban the wearing of headphones while walking or running, as is now proposed in New York and jurisdictions beyond:
In New York, a bill is pending in the legislature’s transportation committee that would ban the use of mobile phones, iPods or other electronic devices while crossing streets — runners and other exercisers included. Legislation pending in Oregon would restrict bicyclists from using mobile phones and music players, and a Virginia bill would keep such riders from using a “hand-held communication device.”
Never mind that collisions necessarily involve a minimum of two parties, such that anywhere from zero to all parties are paying inadequate attention. Never mind that sources of distraction vary widely -- the sky's the limit, really, but then again it's common enough to be distracted by something happening in the sky. All that aside, surely the only sensible response is to embrace Jonathan Adkins's speculations as fact and legally bar pedestrians from using headphones.

As I cherish wearing headphones while walking and running, this is disappointing, but I cannot dispute the reasoning behind it. If only -- if only, I shake my fist at the heavens and repeat -- there were some way other than the sense of hearing to detect the presence or absence of vehicular traffic. If only! Alas, no. I have gradually conceded that days with unusually high ambient noise simply are not safe for running or walking, with or without headphones.

I have tried to perfect the ability to draw on my sense of smell to detect the presence/absence of vehicles, but it's difficult. We humans simply don't have adequate olfactory powers. 

If only we had another sense! I hope footwear manufacturers will develop something to fill this terrible gap in our human abilities, as they've done so many times before, but until then, we must embrace the legal ban on headphones for pedestrians.

I hope this sensible measure leads to a legal ban on playing music inside moving vehicles, whether through headphones or not. Only then will we be safe forever from the first half of 2010's very slight uptick in pedestrian deaths.


Eli said...

"If we are to endure as a species, the only sensible response is to adopt Jonathan Adkins's speculation -- his 'one of the reasons we think' stuff -- as established fact and ban the wearing of headphones while walking or running, as is now proposed in New York and jurisdictions beyond."

No way - they're not actually considering banning headphones, are they? That's insane. New York is too damn loud to hear the cars even without headphones, for one thing, but it'd be insane anyway. Am I going to have to move to Canada? Over headphones?

Dale said...

Eli, I wish I could say it's a crazy idea no one would even think of trying, but no, it's a stupid idea that's apparently catching on. (I edited the post a little to get the money quote on some of the legislation under consideration.)


WomanistNTProf said...

My experience wearing headphones while walking or running outside is that I can always hear a car approaching, but that is because I don't blast the music. But of course I don't live in New York; I live in a quiet complex away from the traffic. Seems like there has to be another solution rather than banning headphones like restricting persons wearing headphones to walking/running paths in places where pedestrian accidents have been a problem. Interesting.

WomanistNTProf said...

Correction to my response: I see the ban will only be for those crossing streets.

Dale said...

WomanistNTProf, I can relate -- I can hear cars only too well despite headphones.

I suppose this allows the wearing of headphones so long as we just keep circling the same block, never crossing a street. Neat! No matter the time of day. No matter the actual presence/absence of traffic. No matter the green light over the pedestrian walkway we might use, I gather.

Again, if only -- if only! -- there was some kind of "third sense" available to us humans to supplement our meager sense of smell and tragically headphone-dampened sense of hearing.