by Al Sacco

Unsafe Texting Sends More to the ER: Doctor Offers Up 5 Tips

Jul 31, 20084 mins

It seems like common sense: walking, or worse, biking down a busy city street while texting on a BlackBerry or other mobile device is not a very bright idea. However, U.S. emergency room physicians say that’s just the problem. A growing number of Americans, particularly teenagers and young adults, are demonstrating a surprising lack of common sense when it comes to texting and “multitasking”—and texting-related injuries, such as lacerated faces and sprained ankles, are increasing accordingly.

Man on bike using cell phone to text message

The American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) this week issued a warning about the potential dangers of texting while walking, driving, biking or rollerblading; it hopes to raise awareness around the issue as teenagers return to school this fall. The statement follows an informal survey circulated between ACEP members that found that doctors around the country are seeing a rise in injuries involving text-messaging pedestrians, bicyclists, rollerbladers and motorists, according to the AP.

Teenagers may be the most prone to injuring themselves in this fashion, but in my personal experience, just as many adult professionals carelessly type away while plowing through crowds as do adolescents. After all, most BlackBerry users are businesspeople who have smartphones so they can catch up with work on the go. And sometimes that means texting while running to the next meeting or while trying to hail a cab to the airport.

It’s easy to scoff at the ACEP warning or dismiss it as medical PR—as I’ve been wont to do in the past—but the group also offered up some frightening examples of why you should take heed. Dr. Matthew Lewin, MD, PhD, an emergency physician at University of California San Francisco Hospital, cites the time he saw a woman who was texting step off a curb and get flung 30 or so feet in the air by a passing pickup truck. She later died in the trauma center of Lewin’s hospital.

Dr. Paul Walsh, an emergency room doctor based in Bakersfield, Calif., tells a similar story in which a 50-year-old man was struck by a vehicle while crossing the road and speaking to his wife on a mobile phone. He too died from related injuries.

For me, this warning hits close to home, as I’m always texting and multitasking—though I don’t own a bicycle and wouldn’t be caught dead wearing a pair of rollerblades. In fact, I have a vivid memory of leaving an MIT Sloan CIO Symposium in a rush to catch the train, clacking away on my BlackBerry and tripping on a rather large pot hole just before the sidewalk met Massachusetts Ave. I twisted my ankle, sang a chorus of colorful expletives and landed on top of my BlackBerry, in the middle of the road. Had a car been coming, I might not be writing this post today.

My point: we can all learn something from this warning and the following five tips from Dr. Linda Lawrence, ACEP president.

  1. Don’t text or talk on the phone in situations that require constant attention, such as while walking in a busy area, cycling, sailing, rollerskating or while playing sports.
  2. Never text or use your mobile phone while operating a motor vehicle or motorcycle, and be aware that though Bluetooth headsets and other hands-free systems can be helpful, they’re not a solution.
  3. Keep mobile phones in easily-accessible areas of backpacks, purses or loose pockets so you don’t have to rummage around for the device and divertattention from other tasks.
  4. Don’t hesitate to ignore a call or message alert if it might interfere with whatever you’re doing at a given time. There will be plenty of time to respond in a safer situation. Also, consider turning off your mobile phone before taking part in activities that require a high-level of attention, liking driving.
  5. Be aware of the your surroundings while using a mobile device, and never text or talk on the phone in environments where doing so could lead to safety concerns, such as while you’re alone in the evening, waiting for public transportation or anywhere else someone may attempt to capitalize on your inattention by stealing.