Don’t be a tech zombie - keep your eyes and ears alert to dangers

You didn’t realise it, but an MP3 player can kill you. The road safety office of Mayo County Council highlighted the dangers of what it calls “iPod oblivion/zombie alert,” which it describes as “a trance-like or zombie state entered by the fashion of some people using MP3 players, phones and electronic organisers on the move,” and which it believes is a contributory factor to many of the pedestrian/cyclist deaths in the Ireland each year. There were 28 pedestrians and eight cyclists killed on Irish roads in 2012. It is not known how many of these cases were caused by people listening to music because the Department of Transport and the Gardaí do not have this information at their disposal.

One cycling club in the west of Ireland (Western Lakes CC ) has already put a policy in place banning all its members from participating on cycles if they use ipods while they cycle. Padraic Marrey, club coach, and one of Ireland’s top cyclists said “cycling demands all your attention so any device that takes your concentration away while you cycle can be a danger”.

Last year, a motorists’ organisation in the UK called on the Department for Transport to ban cyclists from using iPods and similar devices while riding their bikes, and although it is stopping short of calling for a ban for motorists and pedestrians, it does recommend that the drivers don’t wear headphones while at the wheel and slow down in areas where there are cyclists and pedestrians. It adds that the latter should ensure that when using MP3 players, the volume should not be so high that it overrides their other senses.

Noel Gibbons, road safety officer, added: “We can't stop the move forward 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 so-called 'iPod oblivion'.”

He continued: “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.

“We have seen an increase in pedestrians and joggers who seem oblivious to traffic around them as they cross busy roads, and with this time of year more people are thinking of keeping fit and out exercising, we are just reminding them to think road safety.”

According to road safety professionals, the huge surge in use of personal technology can lead to what it calls “unintentional blindness” or “divided attention” among all road users, whether that be joggers, cyclists, or drivers listening to MP3 players, people checking work emails on BlackBerry and similar devices on the move, or tourists using a smartphone app to find a nearby restaurant.

Garda Sergeant Donie Duignan, Divisional Traffic Corps, Castlebar said that it was especially concerned “at reports from patrols of people broken down on the hard-shoulder, pacing backwards and forwards while using mobile phones,” saying “this is incredibly dangerous with traffic passing just a few feet away. Pedestrians and cyclists seem to get lost in a private cocoon when they’re on a mobile in the street, or wearing headphones, the use of headphones can pose a safety risk to pedestrians, especially in environments with moving vehicles.”

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