Texting While Walking May Be Dangerous

This week, the American College of Emergency Physicians issued an alert warning of the dangers of text-messaging while walking and driving. Dr. Angela Gardner, an emergency physician at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, says texting while walking is a growing problem that is growing bigger every day.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

You've probably seen these people walking down the street a lot lately, and by these people we mean the ones with their eyes focused on their cell phone or BlackBerry, thumbs all aflutter as they fire off text messages, totally oblivious to their surroundings. Maybe you're one of them.

Text-walkers have become a symbol of the multi-tasking age, but they can be a danger to themselves and to others. At least one state, Illinois, is considering a fine to curtail the behavior. Joining me on the line is Angela Gardner. She's an emergency doctor at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.

Dr. Gardner, I take that text-walking is enough of a problem that the American College of Emergency Physicians issued an alert about it?

Dr. ANGELA GARDNER (University of Texas Medical Branch): Yes. It is a big problem and growing bigger every day.

NORRIS: What kinds of things are you seeing and hearing about?

Dr. GARDNER: Well, I saw a patient almost two years ago now who was my first text injury. She was a young lady in her early 20s who was walking down the sidewalk in my hometown, and she was sending a text message. She missed the end of the curb and fell off into the street, into the path of an oncoming car.

The driver of the car was on his cell phone. When he saw her fall, he overcorrected, and his car ran into a light pole. I treated both patients in the emergency department.

NORRIS: Did either person involved in that accident walk away from this saying, I will never text-walk again?

Dr. GARDNER: Well, the young lady was a little bit embarrassed about what happened, so I think she probably will not. The gentleman who was on the phone actually had said that he was going to get a headset.

NORRIS: You know, this is the kind of the thing that - I guess I understand why the American College of Emergency Physicians would issue an alert about this, but it also seems like common sense that maybe you put these kinds of devices down if you need to be paying attention.

Dr. GARDNER: Well, you would think so. The actual use of the cell phone to send a text message requires a visual concentration. If you take your eyes off the road for a minute when you're driving, that'll cause a wreck. If you're even walking and you are concentrating on a screen, you can step in a hole or just step incorrectly and end up injured.

NORRIS: Doctor, now you mentioned an anecdotal example, but are there any kind of statistics to suggest that there is a veritable uptick in these injuries?

Dr. GARDNER: I don't have any hard data that would suggest that. I can tell you, though, that when I first saw that patient, I wrote about her on my own little personal blog because it was such an unusual story. Now I see one of these a week or so.

NORRIS: One a week.

Dr. GARDNER: Yes.

NORRIS: Now, aside from not doing it, from putting away the phone or the BlackBerry, what are some things that people can do to be a safe text-walker if they insist on walking while texting?

Dr. GARDNER: Well, the most common sense thing is to just stop. If you have to send a text message, get out of the path of the traffic of the sidewalk and stop, send the message, and then go on.

NORRIS: Now we mentioned one state, Illinois, is now considering making text-walking a misdemeanor, a misdemeanor that would be worth a $25 fine. Do you think that might make a difference?

Dr. GARDNER: I actually don't think that's a very enforceable law. They would be - they'd have to stand on the street corner and just issue a ticket to everybody walking by.

NORRIS: Well, not everybody.

Dr. GARDNER: Well, almost everybody.

NORRIS: Do you ever text-walk?

Dr. GARDNER: Yes, and I'll tell what's happened to me, is that because I'm not part of the 20-year-old multi-tasking generation that can do three IMs at the same time they're talking on the phone, I actually have to stop and concentrate on sending a text message. So I will stop and send the message and then go on.

NORRIS: Angela Gardner is an emergency doctor at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. Dr. Gardner, thanks so much for being with us.

Dr. GARDNER: Oh, thank you.

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