Texting on the Move

Lexi bumped into someone at the mall. Curtis slammed into a parking meter. Ryan tripped over a bag at the airport. You've probably seen it, and maybe you've even laughed: People can end up in some pretty goofy situations when they text and walk at the same time.

Believe it or not, people can also get hurt.

The American College of Emergency Physicians warns people about texting on the move. ER docs who treat people like Curtis (he cracked his ribs in his encounter with the parking meter) say that we need to be more cautious about when and where we text.

What's the Big Deal?

The problem is multitasking. No matter how young and agile we are, the human brain just isn't capable of doing several things at once and giving full attention to all of them. So you can get into some major danger if you try to text in situations that require your full focus.

When you text you're thinking about what to say, concentrating on what your thumbs are doing, and reading constantly incoming messages rather than paying attention to what you're doing or where you're going. And that significantly ups your risk of getting hurt or injuring others.

It doesn't matter if you can text without looking at the keypad. Even if texting feels like second nature, your brain is still trying to do two things at once — and one of them is bound to get less attention.

Texting also prevents you from paying close attention to what's going on around you, something that's especially important in situations where you need to have your guard up, like walking home after dark. Your reaction time is also likely to be much slower if you're texting. If you're about to run into someone or something else, you may not have time to act before it's too late.

When Texting Turns Tragic

Texting while walking can even be fatal. One woman in San Francisco was killed when she walked right into the path of a pickup truck. That's rare, of course. But texting is more likely to contribute to car crashes. We know this because police and other authorities sometimes use a driver's phone records to check for phone and text activity in the seconds and minutes before a fatal crash.

When people text while behind the wheel, they're focusing their attention — and often their eyes — on something other than the road. In fact, driving while texting (DWT) can be more dangerous than driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Texting from behind the wheel is against the law in almost 20 states and the District of Columbia. Many more states are trying to put DWT regulations into action. Even in states without specific laws, if you swerve all over the place, cut off cars, or bring on a collision because of texting, you could still be charged with reckless driving. That may mean a ticket, a lost license, or even jail time if you cause a fatal crash.

Tips for Texting

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It's hard to live without texting. So the best thing to do is manage how and when we text, choosing the right time and place.

Here are three ways to make sure your messaging doesn't interfere with your focus — or your life:

  1. Always put your phone in an easily accessible place, like a specific pouch or pocket in your backpack or purse so it's easy to find.
  2. If you need to text right away, stop what you're doing or pull off the road.
  3. Turn off your phone completely when you're doing anything that requires your full attention. That way there's less temptation to answer calls or texts.

To avoid an injury — whether it's a cut on your face or a bruise to your ego — or a horrible tragedy, try to use your best judgment. Text only when you're not putting yourself or others in harm's way. And if you're riding in a car with a driver who is texting, ask him or her to stop or try not to ride with that person again.

Reviewed by: Larissa Hirsch, MD
Date reviewed: January 2010

Kids Health

Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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