Question of the Week

November 5, 2007


USA Track and Field is getting some press as more races enforce the rule about no MP3 players for runners who compete. The rule is as follows:

"The visible possession or use by athletes of video or audio cassette recorders or players, TV's, CD or DVD players, radio transmitters or receivers, mobile phones, computers or any similar devices in the competition area shall not be permitted."

For runners who train with their music, it can be difficult to give it up for a race, especially those who train for longer races, such as marathons. Race organizers insist that the rules exist for the safety of the runners.

"'Runners have to be aware, and it's harder to be aware when you're wearing headphones,' [Grandma's Marathon executive director Scott Keenan] said. 'We have two races sharing the same course, and there's a lot of movement -- other runners, wheelchair racers, timing trucks, media vans, official motorcycles, emergency vehicles, official bicyclists, volunteers. There are dangerous situations and runners should be using all their senses to be safe.'"

With thousands (or even just hundreds) of people all running together, it makes sense that race organizers would want racers to be able to hear their surroundings and be more aware of possible hazards. Some runners agree, while others find the music is what helps them stay focused and paced throughout their races.

"Ian Nurse ... is also ready for the 4.2-mile race, which he almost won in 2005, without music. 'It's easier to think,' he explains, 'and be more focused on the running.' ... At the same time, runners post playlists online. Websites ... list songs' beats per minute so runners can match their stride -- Maroon 5's 'This Love' at 94 beats per minute for a warm-up, Billy Idol's 'Dancing With Myself' at 176 for a faster pace."
Boston Globe

Some might think that it is just a matter of opinion, and those who prefer music can have it, while those who don't like it can do without.

"While some contestants take a live-and-let-live attitude, others complain of runners who can't hear someone trying to pass them. 'There definitely is a sort of tension,' says David Mak, 38, a software developer from Jamaica Plain who runs without music. 'I'm there to soak in the atmosphere of the race. When you have a headset on, you're there to tune everything else out.'"
Boston Globe

It is the tuning out of everything else that is the problem. Not just when hundreds or thousands of runners all try to go the same place at the same time, but even when one person (runner, walker, or cyclist) tries to cross the street.

"[February 2007] A state senator from Brooklyn said on Tuesday he plans to introduce legislation that would ban people from using an MP3 player, cell phone, Blackberry or any other electronic device while crossing the street in New York City and Buffalo. ... Sen. Carl Kruger is proposing the ban in response to two recent pedestrian deaths in his district, including a 23-year-old man who was struck and killed last month while listening to his iPod on Avenue T and East 71st Street In Bergen Beach. ... "While people are tuning into their iPods and cell phones, they're tuning out the world around them," Kruger said. ... Some pedestrians said they were not worried about their safety while using their electronic devices while walking. 'I look for the light,' said Venus Montes of Williamsburg. 'I'm still looking,' said Lance Gordon of Far Rockaway. 'It's not like I'm not paying attention.' ... Some pedestrians think the proposal was a good idea. 'It's too dangerous,' said Nicole Lake of Jersey City. 'Drivers don't pay attention and pedestrians don't pay attention.'"

Distracted driving is an issue in and of itself. Distracted walking, while it may not get as much press, can be just as deadly.

"The death of an 18-year-old Grimsby student hit by a train on Saturday does not appear to have deterred other youths in the area from walking along the same train tracks on which he died. ... The Grimsby Secondary School student was wearing his MP3 player earphones at the time and did not respond to repeated whistles from the train or warnings from people nearby trying to alert him."

Many people like their MP3 players because they allow the ability to tune out the world, or they allow the listeners to focus on what they are listening to. These positive qualities are just the ones that make them so dangerous.

"Police informed bikers on campus last week that officers would begin to crack down on cyclists this week for running stop signs and listening to music on headphones. Representatives from the Stanford University Department of Public Safety (DPS), however, maintain that the aforementioned laws have been in effect for years ... Because the California Vehicle Code states that bicycle riders have the same rights and responsibilities as motor vehicle drivers, cyclists are, therefore, subject to the same citations and fines. ... 'These laws exist for the safety of bicyclists, pedestrians as well as others on the road.'"
The Stanford Daily

Questions of the Week:
When (and how) can MP3 players, cell phones, and other personal electronic devices help people to be more active and lead to healthier lifestyles? When (and how) can they help create situations that are potentially more dangerous? What regulations should exist for those walking, running, and/ or cycling while using MP3 players (and cell phones)? Regardless of rules and regulations, what should you and your peers be doing to help ensure a safer situation on the roads (bike paths, sidewalks, train tracks, etc.) for all who are traveling there? What do your think your peers and family members know about these safety issues, and what should they know?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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