Portable Electronics and Injury Prevention
Amy Movius, MD
Feb. 24, 2009
Portable electronic devices have inundated our culture. They range from cell phones, to blackberries, to iPods. While unquestionably useful, this technology has also brought unforeseen hazards that are becoming more recognized. Using these devices can be dangerous because we often use them while we are doing something else. The inattention that results can be disastrous, or even fatal.
Cell phones have been around for many years, and as such, the risks of talking unnecessarily on a cell phone while driving is something probably most people have heard of. Several states have enacted laws banning cell phone use while driving because of this (DC, Alaska, California, Connecticut, Louisiana, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Washington). What has become increasingly common, however, is text messaging while driving, especially among teenagers and young adults for whom texting is the more common form of communication. It seems obvious that this is a terrible habit. In one study, people who texted while driving had their eyes off the road four hundred percent more than when not texting. The effect of texting on driving ability is thought to be worse than that of drugs and alcohol! Because of this, medical delegates are urging the American Medical Association to advocate for states bans on using handheld devices to send messages while driving.
Use of portable electronic devices can be dangerous in much less obvious ways, as well. Pedestrians who are talking on cell phones, texting, or listening to iPods can be completely “tuned out” to their environment. One study on a university campus observed 127 student pedestrians; 48 percent of those using cell phones stepped into a cross walk as a car was approaching. Pedestrian injuries and even deaths have resulted and are occasionally reported. The following recent examples were excerpted from an NPR story on this subject a few days ago:
- 20 year-old University of North Carolina student stepped in front of bus while jogging on campus wearing iPod
- 16 year-old North Carolina boy and 17 year-old Michigan boy hit and killed by trains they didn’t hear while wearing iPods
- 39 year-old woman hit by train while talking on cell phone
Many people probably also remember the train collision in September 2008 in which the engineer was texting just seconds before impact. Twenty-five persons, including the engineer, were killed. Unfortunately, the cases that make the news are thought to be the tip of the iceberg. There is not yet a formal reporting process for the health care system to track injuries related to electronic use (as there is for drug/alcohol use). The city of San Francisco and the state of Texas have instituted their own ad campaigns to raise general awareness for pedestrians about these hazards.
Portable electronics are part of the fabric of our culture. As such, the burden is on each individual to use these devices responsibly. Don’t use cell phones casually or head phones/ear buds while driving. Don’t text or call people while “on the run." Keep music at a level you can still hear what is happening around you. These simple habits can keep you and those around you safe.
National Public Radio, February 22, 2009. Distracted Pedestrians An Increasing Risk and Walking and Cell Phones Don’t Mix.
amednews.com 12/08 AMA Meeting