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Listen closely: Experts urge drivers to take off headphones

As you made your way to work, school, the store or around your neighborhood over the course of the last week, chances are very good that you saw people out walking, jogging or bicycling while wearing headphones or earbuds.

While you likely thought nothing of it, research has long shown that pedestrians wearing headphones are at an elevated risk of injuries and fatalities owing to what is known as "inattentional blindness," meaning the phenomenon whereby the brain's resources are divided among too many stimuli. Indeed, a recent study by researchers at the University of Maryland determined that the number of injuries and fatalities among pedestrians wearing headphones jumped considerably over a six-year period.

As distressing as this notion of pedestrians being distracted by headphones is, AAA is now warning that it's becoming increasingly widespread among another group: drivers.

If this seems hard to believe, consider that a study performed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration back in 2012 indicated that motorists using portable music players ranked as one of the "most commonly performed potentially distracting behaviors while driving."

Given the technological advancements that have occurred in the time since this study was performed concerning both smartphones and headphones, and the proliferation of each among consumers, it's easy to see how this has become a very real safety hazard.

All this naturally raises the question, however, as to why listening to music on headphones or a podcast over earbuds while driving is any more dangerous than listening over the standard car radio.

According to AAA, headphones and earphones cause sensory deprivation and cognitive distraction, two conditions that are now further intensified by modern technology like noise cancellation acoustical technology.

In other words, while a driver can hear their music or news reports better than ever over their headphones, they do so at the expense of hearing things like emergency sirens, railroad warnings, car horns and other background noises that serve as traffic cues.

While there are currently no figures outlining how many serious and fatal car accidents can be linked to driving with headphones or earbuds, at least four states aren't taking any chances and have banned them entirely behind the wheel, while 14 others have restrictions in place that don't extend to the hearing impaired. As for Kentucky, we have no restrictions on this behavior on the books.

Here's hoping that lawmakers take note of this crucial oversight and that our fellow motorists exercise their common sense behind the wheel.

If you've been seriously injured or lost a loved one in a car accident caused by a distracted driver, consider speaking with a skilled legal professional to learn more about your rights and your options for pursuing justice.  

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