Injury Prevention

Text Messaging: Emergency Physicians Express Safety Concerns As Kids Go Back To School

‘Plain old common sense’ advised; don’t text while walking, driving, rollerblading

The nation’s youngsters will soon be headed back to school and making new friends in new classes, as well as catching up with old buddies – activities that these days typically spark a flurry of text-messaging, especially among teens and young adults. But the nation’s emergency physicians say they are seeing a dangerous trend that can go hand-in-hand with texting: a rise in injuries and deaths related to sending text messages at inappropriate times, such as while walking, driving, biking or rollerblading.

 “It’s tragic,” said Dr. Linda Lawrence, of the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP), who noted that her colleagues across the country are anecdotally reporting cases, “among teens and young adults, in particular, who are arriving in emergency departments with serious and sometimes fatal injuries because they were not paying attention while texting.”

“We see this every day, since we are [in] downtown Chicago, with lots of people walking around,” said Dr. James Adams, MD, professor and chair of the department of emergency medicine, Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University. “People are texting and they trip and fall on their faces – usually people in their 20s. We see a lot of face, chin, mouth [and] eye injuries from falls.”

Even worse, said Dr. Adams, are the injuries that result from people texting and causing collisions with bikers, rollerbladers and others.

“Some [people] are actually on [Chicago’s busy] lakefront path texting while walking or exercising,” said Dr. Adams.  “We see people rollerblading or biking while texting. They are usually very skilled but sometimes crash and fall when they are not watching where they are going.”

While many of these injuries turn out to be relatively minor, others are more deadly.

“In March, [we] were driving and saw a  woman in her twenties step off the curb and get struck square by a pickup truck,” said Dr. Matthew Lewin, MD, PhD, an emergency physician at University of California San Francisco Hospital in San Francisco. “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.”

Of course, it’s not the just young who are vulnerable to cell-phone-related injuries. Dr. Paul Walsh, an emergency physician in Bakersfield, Calif., reported treating a man in his 50s who was talking on the phone to his wife. “He was distracted and was killed as he crossed the road.

“This issue is real,” said Dr. Walsh. “In Ireland, the government developed advertising specifically targeted at teens for this very reason.” 

Because of the inevitable distractions and subsequent dangers related to texting and the use of other electronic devices such as Ipods, Dr. Lawrence advised the following common-sense safety measures:

  • Don’t text or use a cell phone while engaged in any physical activities that require sustained attention; such activities include walking, biking, boating, rollerblading or even intermittent-contact sports such as baseball, football or soccer.
  • Never text or use a hand-held cell phone while driving or motorcycling, and use caution even with headsets.
  • Avoid becoming distracted by rummaging through purses, backpacks or clothing by keeping cell phones and blackberries in easy-to-find locations, such as phone pockets or pouches.
  • Ignore the call or message if it might interfere with concentration during critical activities that require attention. Better yet, turn off the device beforehand during times when incoming calls or messages might prove to be a dangerous or even simply embarrassing or annoying interference.
  • Be mindful of the distraction and corresponding reflex-response delay that texting can cause, and don’t text in any environments in which excessive inattention can cause safety concerns, such as while sitting alone at night, waiting for a bus, or in a crowded area, where one could easily become a victim of a personal theft.

“The bottom line is to be aware of potential safety concerns and to simply exercise caution, restraint and good judgment at all times when using a cell phone or blackberry,” said Dr. Lawrence.

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