Is it Safe to Walk Around New York City with Headphones?


Whether it’s headphones, earphones, earbuds, or AirPods – people, especially the young, tend to love having tiny speakers from their ears as a part of their daily life. Since MP3 players were invented, everyone has played tunes for their earholes. We have been using headphones to listen to music, podcasts, and videos and answer phone calls for decades.

However, it can be unsafe to use while walking, especially in a busy city like New York City. Sometimes the activity of listening to your own music goes wrong, annoying anyone, everywhere all the time.

Why is it Bad to Walk with Headphones in New York City?

Walking with headphones can impair your judgment and coordination and diminish your ability to hear or perceive. It increases the likelihood of being struck by a vehicle while walking or standing. Drivers may be honking at you, but if you’re at full volume, you may not hear or be as alert as needed in the situation, which puts you at risk for accidents.

Headphone-related accidents involving pedestrians are on the rise, according to a study conducted in the US. The study found 116 reports of death or injury of pedestrians wearing headphones between 2004 and 2011, with 81 of them being fatal. The majority of victims were males under the age of 30, with 55% of the accidents involving trains. During the seven-year study period, the number of cases tripled, raising concerns among the researchers who noted that the use of cell phones and MP3 players is increasing. The distraction caused by handheld devices can cause “inattentional blindness,” which can divide the user’s attention, making them unaware of their surroundings.

In Long Island alone, the number of pedestrian-motor vehicle accidents resulting in bodily injuries in 2019 was 1,347, of which 60 were fatal. A breakdown of the figures reveals that Nassau County recorded 29 fatalities and 829 personal injuries, while Suffolk County recorded 31 fatalities and 458 personal injuries. The police report suggests that the use of headphones is becoming an increasingly common contributing factor in pedestrian accidents.

Disadvantages of Wearing Headphones while Walking in NYC

a girl walking up on the stairs with phone on hand and music on the headphones

Since the invention of MP3, headphones have been popular. But now as technology progressed, there are solid noise-canceling headphones that can totally block the background noise. This type of headphone is especially dangerous for pedestrians in a city like New York.

While walking with headphones in the city is not necessarily unsafe, there are some potential cons to consider:

Reduced awareness of your surroundings

When you’re wearing headphones, hearing important sounds, such as traffic, emergency sirens, or people shouting warnings, can be more difficult. Headphones can detach us from our surroundings, and this disconnection can put you at risk of accidents, especially when crossing the street and walking near traffic.

Even if precautions are taken, like walking on the sidewalk, looking both ways before crossing, or keeping a distance from the street, accidents can be difficult to avoid if our ability to hear accurately is muffled or redirected elsewhere. The noises we hear can serve as warning signs and alert us to potential danger, but if our ears are blocked by earbuds, even without volume, we may miss these signs. For example, the soft sound of tires on the road helps us gauge the distance between us and a vehicle and how fast it’s approaching. Loud engine noises, shouting, or screeching tires may also indicate the danger that earbuds can mask.

Additionally, earbud volumes can block out the sound of horns designed to alert us to potential risks. The effectiveness of noise cancellation features has improved significantly, making it even more difficult to hear approaching vehicles or horns. Combined with quieter engines in electric and hybrid vehicles, this can be dangerous and potentially deadly.

Reduced focus

Our bodies respond to visual and auditory cues, which help us detect and avoid potential dangers. The quickest and most effective way to sense these warnings is to identify them early.

However, wearing headphones can split our focus between our surroundings and the sounds we choose to listen to, which can compromise our judgment and coordination. Even if we passively listen, our attention is periodically drawn away from our environment, resulting in distraction and potentially poor decision-making skills. This is known as “inattentional blindness,” which can impede our ability to process the information we see.

For example, we may go through the motions of looking both ways before crossing the street. Still, our inattention can undermine our judgment and coordination, leading us to act unsafely or delay our reaction time.

Increased vulnerability to crime

When you’re unaware of your surroundings, you may be more vulnerable to theft or other crimes. For example, you may not notice someone trying to steal your bag or pick your pocket when you’re too engrossed in the music or podcast blasting in your ear.

Also, headphones are obvious pieces of technology that may be extra eye-catching to muggers and stealers. And if you’re wearing one with obvious brands, criminals will figure out it’s connected to another high-end device, which will identify you as someone with deep economic status. Terrible people may want to take them from you or think your bag has other valuables worthy of stealing.

While there are no statistics about headphone theft in New York City, we all know that the city has a large number of criminals in it. Keep your friends close but your gadgets closer.

Difficulty communicating with others

If someone tries to talk to you while you’re wearing headphones, you may not hear them or understand what they’re saying. This can be frustrating for both you and the other person.

But maybe you wear headphones to avoid being disturbed by anyone. Introverts know this trick all too well. However, you’ll never know when or where you’ll meet someone interesting – and New York City is full of people like these. So occasionally, put your headphones down and try to be open to conversations.

Missed opportunities to connect with others

New York City is diverse and vibrant, and there are often interesting people and events around you. The noise in NYC is what makes the place great – everything is a cacophony of cars and people, sights to see, and sounds to hear. When you’re wearing headphones, you may miss out on opportunities to connect with others and experience the city more meaningfully.

When work is over, and you can return to your homeland in the suburbs, you probably can’t sleep at night because it’s too quiet. Remove your headphones more and soak in the city sounds, and you’ll remember why you wanted so badly to be in New York in the first place.

How to Wear Headphones Safely in a Busy City

a man in New York looking at his phone

While there are risks associated with having your focus divided if you wear headphones while walking in a busy city like New York, it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy music or listen to your favorite podcast if that’s the only time you’re free to do that. For some people, it’s a way to de-stress after clocking out at the office and before dealing with stuff at home. If you still want to use headphones while walking in a busy city, here are some tips to help you stay safe:

Keep the volume low

Loud music can drown out the sounds of approaching vehicles or warning signals, so keep the volume at a level where you can still hear what’s going on around you. Also, it’s pretty annoying when people can hear what you’re listening to on the headphones. There’s no point blasting your sounds – you’re not a radio and don’t own a boombox, so turn the volume down.

Use noise-canceling headphones with caution

While noise-canceling headphones can block out background noise, they can also make it harder to hear warning signals, so use them with caution. It’s best to use them on a bus or while on the subway train, but when you need to step out and walk, take them out.

Keep one ear open

When using earbuds, consider one that covers only one ear, so you can still hear what’s happening around you. There are many types of earbuds, and unlike headphones, you can use only one.

Keep your belongings close and safe.

Your headphones are most likely connected to a device, like a phone, and some stealers may get tempted to snatch it. Always keep your device close to you. If it’s inside a bag, keep it in a pocket closest to your body.  

Avoid distractions

Don’t get too absorbed in your music or podcast that you forget to pay attention to your surroundings. Keep an eye out for cars, bikes, and other hazards. Be mindful of what’s happening around you for your own safety.

Use designated pedestrian areas

Walking on sidewalks or designated pedestrian paths whenever possible rather than on the road. Cars are more likely to stop as they see these signs.

Look both ways before crossing

Always look both ways before crossing the street, even if you have the right of way. You’ll never know who or what may come, and drivers don’t always follow the rules.

Remember, your safety is important, and taking a few simple precautions can go a long way in keeping you out of harm’s way.


While wearing headphones in New York City is not necessarily unsafe, it’s important to be aware of the potential risks and limitations. If you choose to wear headphones, stay alert and aware of your surroundings, and consider taking them off in certain situations, such as when crossing the street or talking to others.

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