Hey, oblivious texters! Doctors want you to read this message
That edge of technology? You're teetering on it
You see them everywhere: driving, crossing streets, buying groceries or ordering coffee.
Their heads bent over open cell phones as their fingers leap across their keypads, unaware of the world around them.
These "texters," who send and receive messages on their phones, are not just living on the edge of modern technology. They are also safety hazards.
Put moving while texting up there with skating on thin ice and playing with matches.
In an alert issued this week, the American College of Emergency Physicians warns of the danger of more serious accidents involving oblivious texters. These doctors cite rising reports from around the country of injuries involving text-messaging motorists, pedestrians, bicyclists, even Rollerbladers. And ER doctors who responded to a recent informal query from the organization reported two deaths, both in California.
A San Francisco woman was killed by a pickup truck earlier this year when she stepped off a curb while texting, and a Bakersfield man was killed last year by a car while crossing the street and texting.
Harborview Medical Center has not knowingly treated anyone injured while texting, said spokeswoman Susan Gregg-Hanson. However, after a driver typing on a BlackBerry caused a five-car pileup on Interstate 5 in December 2006, the Legislature enacted a law that banned texting while driving. This year has seen one accident caused by texting and 18 tickets given to text-messaging drivers, said Freddy Williams, spokesman for the Washington State Patrol.
As ubiquitous as texters are on Seattle's streets, no one seems willing to fess up to texting-related injuries. But they do seem to have friends who have suffered such a fate.
"I'll stop for a second at a stoplight to look around and make sure I don't hit anything," said Katie Castro, 24, who was caught texting while walking Wednesday afternoon on Sixth Avenue at Pine Street. "But I text all the time, while I'm walking, driving, at work. I really don't even talk on the phone that much anymore."
Two other pedestrians, Sarah Polachek, 21, and Emily Crawford, 22, both said their friends walked into poles and swerved their cars while texting, but wouldn't admit to having any accidents themselves. In fact, both condemned continuous texters.
"They think they can sense everything around them while texting, but they're oblivious," Crawford said. "For them, texting takes priority over safety."
Polachek took her disapproval a step further.
"I think texting is impersonal and stupid," she said. "It gets on my nerves."
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has no national estimate on how common texting-related injuries are. But among the reports it has received were of a 15-year-old girl who fell off her horse while texting, suffering head and back injuries, and of a 13-year-old girl who received stomach, leg and arm burns after texting her boyfriend while cooking noodles.
Valerie Jarrett, an aide for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, lent the issue some political weight when she fell off a curb in Chicago several weeks ago while typing on her BlackBerry.
"I didn't see the sidewalk and I twisted my ankle," she said. "It was a nice wake-up call for me to be a lot more careful in the future, because I clearly wasn't paying attention and I should have."