Mobile Tech

Doctors Sound Alarm Over Reckless Texting

For people who may not be clear about the dangers of texting while walking, exercising or driving, the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) issued a warning this week advising avid texters to resist the urge to read or send messages when engaged in another activity.

Emergency room physicians are seeing an increasing number of injuries — both minor and serious — that patients attributed to texting while they did something else, according to the ACEP. The dangerous trend has even led to several fatalities.

The advisory, timed to hit just as parents and students are gearing up to go back to school, is aimed primarily at teens and young adults.

“You’re not seeing a lot of 80-year-olds coming in with texting injuries. They do tend to be a younger demographic. And then, depending on whether you’re in the city or not, that [determines] what we see. In a city where there’s a lot of driving and commuting, we’re seeing the most accidents related to texting which can be very serious or even fatal,” said Leigh Vinocar, ACEP national spokesperson and a practicing physician.

Bad for Your Face

ER doctors report a rise in a range of injuries and even deaths as a result of texting during inappropriate moments. Falls are the most common kinds of injuries suffered by those who texting while in motion.

“In cities where people are pedestrians and walkers like New York, Chicago and Baltimore, where there is a lot of pedestrian traffic, we’re seeing a lot of falls because people aren’t paying attention. Can you walk and chew gum? Except that this is more than chewing gum because you’re really concentrating on something else,” Vinocar told TechNewsWorld.

“Normally when you fall, you put your hands out reflexively to protect your face. If you have anything in your hand, you’re not able to drop it as quickly and protect your face. So, we’re seeing a lot of facial and head injuries, chins and even eye injuries where people were poked in the eye,” she explained.

Students who leave class and text as they walk down the hall, for example, might not realize they have reached the stairs and fall.

People are not as aware of their surroundings when they text, and doctors, according to Vinocar, have reported people falling into holes in the sidewalk, stepping of off curbs or even walking right into oncoming traffic.

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One doctor, Matthew Lewin, an emergency physician at the University of California in San Francisco, related a horrifying incident in which he saw a young woman in her 20s step off a curb and into the path of an approaching pickup truck.

“She was unconscious and it appeared she’d suffered a massive brain injury. You could tell she saw the truck at the last moment because her cell phone was dropped right where she was struck just off the curb, and she was thrown about 20 or 30 feet. It was horrifying. The truck stopped. The driver was devastated. I was amazed to hear she survived all the way to trauma center but died [in] the ER,” he said.

The ACEP recommends that people resist the urge to check text messages or send their own while they are engaged in other activities.

“No. 1, if you’re involved in any type of activity that requires concentration — including walking — you really shouldn’t be texting. Obviously that goes for even more concentration-reliant activities such as biking, rollerblading, playing a sport, and of course driving. You really shouldn’t do it. If you get a message [while walking] that you have to respond to, you should get out of the flow of traffic, stand somewhere then read or send a message,” Vinocar suggested.

Although several states have either banned or are working on legislation that would specifically prohibit texting while driving, no laws exist to prevent people from walking and texting, she stated.

“With everything that’s going on with cell phones — and the jury is out about the electromagnetic rays — I don’t think texting is a bad thing for kids to do. We still don’t know long-term what [the effects of prolonged cell phone use are],” Vinocar noted.

“I’m a big advocate of pushing for stronger safety standards in the industry and doing more research on it. I advocate texting because it’s a good way to get messages across and it’s not so close to your head. But do it safely, and that means not while you’re doing another activity,” she concluded.

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