One in four Brits at risk when wearing headphones

14th May 2019
Alex Lynn

New research shows that around a quarter of Brits (24%) feel they have put themselves in danger over the past 12 months when wearing headphones or earphones while walking, jogging or cycling. Examples included stepping out into a road, bumping into somebody or not hearing an emergency vehicle approaching.

Commissioned by Audio Analytic, an AI technology company focused on sound recognition, the research explored the risks that people across the country are exposed to everyday by being distracted from their surroundings while listening to music on the move. According to the report, more than 12.2 million people in the past year have put themselves at risk of an accident because they can’t hear danger approaching.

The risk increases the younger consumers are. More than one in three adults between 18 and 34 have put themselves in harm’s way when wearing headphones, as 37% admitted to finding themselves in at least one hazardous situation over the past year, with many doing this multiple times.

Despite these admissions, the research found the majority of Brits claim to be aware of the dangers of wearing headphones and earphones in public. 97% of the population consider it dangerous to wear headphones or earphones when driving, while other activities deemed dangerous include cycling (96%), running (90%) and commuting on public transport (67%).

Dr Chris Mitchell, CEO and Founder of Audio Analytic, commented: “A worrying number of people are putting their lives at risk every day when wearing headphones and shutting down the sense of hearing. 

“Many of us wear headphones to block out the world and increase our focus, but that brings the risk of losing awareness of our surroundings. Missing important information in our environment can ultimately expose us to dangerous situations - and more needs to be done to prevent accidents from happening, we believe contextually-aware AI technology can be an enabler of this.”

Nick Lloyd, Acting Head of Road at RoSPA, added: “Whether you are driving, cycling, jogging or walking being distracted increases your risk of an accident. Listening to music on the move is part of modern life, but using headphones reduces your ability to hear approaching vehicles and puts you at increased risk of harm, especially if riding, walking or running on roads without vehicle segregation.

“Noise cancelling headphones are currently designed to isolate people from their surroundings, incorporating technology that can enable them to actively alert the wearer to possible dangers, and increase awareness, clearly has potential to improve safety.”

The results highlight demand for headphones to make use of artificial intelligence, with 83% of Brits wanting their audio devices to recognise and alert them to the sound of emergency vehicle sirens. Other important sounds Brits want their headphones to recognise include; fire alarms (88%), important announcements starting e.g. train platform changes (83%) and, perhaps alarmingly, gun shots (81%).

A further 86% of people agreed that dynamic noise cancellation, where headphones preserve battery life by automatically turning noise cancellation on when it is needed, would be useful in a range of locations such as the home, commuting and at the gym. In addition, 57% would purchase hearables that had dynamic sound equalisation, which enables the hearables to optimise the audio experience for different acoustic environments.

Dr Mitchell, continued: “Modern headphones with active noise cancellation can increase the risk of distraction danger, but these devices also offer a solution. They are fitted with external microphones presenting an opportunity to add intelligent sound recognition to ensure contextual awareness.

“When the earphones themselves can hear and recognise important sounds, like a siren, car horn or even a doorbell or somebody talking, the devices can alert the wearer or instantly change settings to allow more sound through to enhance awareness.

“In addition, by better understanding the world around us, wearables with sound recognition could also enhance sound quality and better manage battery power. Advanced AI tech can make the next headphones we buy intelligent enough to understand context. We can then lose ourselves in our music without losing touch with the world around us.”

Other facts from the report include:

  • Seventy three percent of Brits own two or more pairs of headphones (In addition to those supplied with phones).
  • Almost half of respondents 48% wear headphones for over two hours a day.
  • Fifty six percent are ‘excited by’ or ‘think it would be useful’ to have artificial intelligence on hearables. Only 12% would be worried about it or will avoid it.
  • Eight six percent of respondents are willing to sacrifice their battery life in return for more intelligent features.
  • The industry has passed the wired vs wireless tipping point, with wireless devices now more popular among consumers, especially amongst those spending more than £76.

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