Take a break from Lady Gaga and stay tuned to the traffic instead

Cross with care ... pedestrians take their turn with the lights at the corner of Market and York streets yesterday. Photo: Nick Moir

ROAD safety experts say the huge number of people using headphones is partly to blame for rates of pedestrian deaths and injuries not following the downward trend of other motor vehicle accidents.

They say there is emerging evidence that the increased use of headphones with iPods and similar devices, along with texting on mobile phones, could be to blame.

''Over the last 20 odd years the number and rates of pedestrian fatalities and serious injuries have been decreasing but they've sort of plateaued over the last few years and in some cases it has increased,'' Jennie Oxley, of the Monash Injury Research Institute, said. ''Certainly in NSW in the last little while it seems to have increased again.''
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This year 23 pedestrians have been killed in NSW, 10 more than at the same time last year, with the ''danger'' period yet to come. Transport for NSW says shorter winter days are when roads are most dangerous for pedestrians.

The most recent death, when mother-of-two Mijin Shin was hit by a bus at Beecroft as she carried her baby daughter, prompted police on Monday to make an impassioned plea for pedestrians and motorists to look out for each other.

But over the next 24 hours police were dumbfounded when there were five serious incidents in Sydney involving pedestrians. In four instances the person was crossing at traffic lights or a pedestrian crossing. The state's top traffic officer, Assistant Commissioner John Hartley, agreed his appeal made less than a day earlier ''fell on deaf ears''.

''If people do not start paying more attention and abiding by the road rules, then it is only a matter of time before we have another death on the roads,'' he said.

Dr Oxley said there have traditionally been three high-risk groups of pedestrians who are killed or seriously hurt: young children, drunk young adults and the elderly.

But the increased use of headphones and mobiles across all ages means people outside these groups are at risk as they are being distracted when stepping out to cross the road.

''There is some evidence that the use of iPads, iPods, all those sorts of things, headphones, are contributing,'' Dr Oxley said. ''It really is an emerging issue.''

It is an issue that has not been lost on the Pedestrian Council of Australia. It has just launched a confronting new campaign ''Don't Tune Out''.