Debate: Should Pedestrians be Allowed to Listen to Headphones in Intersections?

By Glenn & Jake 

Cars are the single most effective way to kill people "accidentally." If the car is John Muhammed then texting while driving is Lee Boyd Malvo. However, a new push is afoot in city and state legislatures to address those most often killed by cars: pedestrians. Laws have been proposed and illegally passed (without constitutional authority) to ban joggers and walkers from wearing headphones in intersections. Even cyclists, who already demean themselves by simply getting on a bike, are being regulated. Is this a case of the nanny state creeping into our headphones like Brian David Mitchell (the kidnapper of Elizabeth Smart)? Or is this perhaps the only way to deal with a rotten American culture that wears headphones everywhere, oblivious to both honking cars and Kitty Genovese's screams? Jake and Glenn, wearing headphones and running across America like Forrest Gump, are the only sexually frustrated men who can decide.

Glenn: This is a terrible idea and unfair to joggers and bicyclists, our nation's heroes. Is Lance Armstrong a threat to our country? Jesse Owens? If people like this, or yours truly, want to walk around wearing headphones, we should be able to. I have too much respect for myself to ever identify as a libertarian, but I think this, like national defense, is a venue where the government is best that governs least. I fully support the laws that make it illegal to own a cell phone in a car and other efforts to increase traffic safety. Car fatalities, after all, are the #2 killer of American teens behind Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. These deaths of pedestrians happen because of cars, not because of cyclists or joggers. I have never witness a bicycle crash into a walker wearing headphones, and if I personally haven't witnessed something it cannot be an important problem. Thank you.

Jake: In the novel about electroshock therapy, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, the author clearly states that wearing headphones while riding a motorcycle takes away from the overall experience. We are all painfully aware that motorcycling and jogging are interchangeable. While you are jogging you should enjoy the things around you. Listen to the children calling each other "faggots," hear dogs being forced to rape other dogs by the quarterback hero Michael Vick, see trees that seems to have vaginal openings and witness a murder. If you don headphones, you will miss out on all of that. You will be too wrapped up in your mix of 90s alternative hits to be mindful of your surroundings. Now, that hardly is a cause to outlaw headphones, but what if that murder taking place was actually a car with its breaks cut speeding toward you while you are crossing the street. As the car honks its horn, you are too busy listening to R. Kelly's "Ignition." You think the honking horn is just R. Kelly saying "beep, beep" in the chorus. Now you're dead in an abyss of nothingness and an old woman who witnessed your death puked. That's why it should be illegal.

Glenn: I am taking your point about taking off my headphones. Sometimes when I'm listening to Bauhaus I realize that the gothic architecture around me might have more to offer than similarly designed music, so I remove my headphones and stare at the wonder that is modern life. But as you know this debate isn't about whether Bauhaus's music is more beautiful than the Brooklyn Bridge. It's about whether the same police who put 41 bullets into Amadou Diallo should put a similar number into pedestrians who choose to listen to Economist podcasts instead of devoting their full attention to the next George Russell Weller. The Economist podcasts are so soft and poorly produced that you have to concentrate to hear them! If I'm wearing headphones while biking I still remain alert, fully ready to pull my earbuds out/headphones off if any bright light appears within my field of vision. I am more careful to look both ways for cars because I know I won't hear them blasting terrible rap music from 100 feet away. In some ways checking out of my reality via rock music forces me to at the same time prepare for its most dangerous inclinations.

Jake: This is not a debate whether music made by black people is "noise," although you are clearly trying to take it in that direction. This debate is whether you can devote your full attention to crossing the street while listening to headphones. You clearly cannot. Your sense of hearing is taken up by Al Franken books on tape or whatever overly white shit you enjoy listening to on your iPod. The world has become so dependent on technology. We carry our phones everywhere we go, we take our laptop computers with us when we go to eat food that contains way too much sodium at McDonald's and we listen to our MP3 players the rest of the time. We should all change our names to "Toby," because we have been enslaved by technology. You live in New York City, where pedestrians are as disposable as Kodak's line of disposable cameras. Your headphones might as well be a noose.

Glenn: Don't make all the white people of this site uncomfortable by turning this into a race war, though that's clearly what it is. I think if my esteemed opponent listened to more ambient/trance music he would see the value of wearing headphones while briskly walking fifteen miles to the nearest grocery store. With my wife always screaming at me about something I did wrong, sometimes putting on the headphones and taking a walk outside (even if I'm listening to Cannibal Corpse) is the only way I can get peace and quiet. The government is even worse than my wife though. It's no surprise that California and New York, two of the most intrusive states, are leading the push to criminalize headphones. They were the first to ban drivers from texting and the second to ban Muslim women from wearing burkhas. Headphones are my burkha and to take them away from me is a disgusting act of bigotry that won't make anyone safer, but will instead radicalize pedestrians, joggers and cyclists. I don't want a race war nor do I want otherwise peaceful pedestrians setting themselves on fire while listening to Rage Against the Machine's 1992 self-titled album. Thank you.

Jake: No, thank you for proving my point! Pedestrians, joggers, cyclists and insane people wandering the streets, looking for their messiah, should have no rights. Cars weigh over 1,000 pounds and the drivers are too busy sexting to pay attention to you, so you need to be alert. If you have a death wish, by all means, wear your headphones and listen to the latest episode of The Moth podcast. I could not give less of a fuck. I am just a person who doesn't want to see people die. See, caring about human lives is something of a hobby to me and I am against most things that will take one: heroin, texting while driving, suicide and listening to headphones in an intersection. Maybe that makes me a bleeding heart liberal, or maybe that makes you a complete asshole. You think listening to Blind Melon's second album is more important than living? That is just ludicrous to me. You think Ludicrous would wear headphones in an intersection? Of course he wouldn't. He is a huge star and can hire a limo to drive him around. That's the true solution to this problem: everybody should just hire a limo and in there you can listen to headphones.


  1. From now on I will listen to my headphones with ZZ Top featuring Jay Z while wearing a blindfold and crossing the busiest intersection I can find.
    That was the point, right?


  3. I don't think pedestrians should have to be forced to pay attention to the road. Things can change in an instant. It' best to have all of your senses working as well as they can, to be alert to sources of accidents wherever you can.

  4. From now on I will listen to my headphones with ZZ Top featuring Jay Z while wearing a blindfold and crossing the busiest intersection I can find.
    That was the point, right?