ER Docs Urge Kids to Skip Texting While in Motion

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The old taunt "You can't chew gum and walk at the same time" these days could be applied to texting (text messaging) while walking — or while doing just about anything else! That's because people are getting hurt — and hurting others — when texting while in motion. And it's not just from sore, overworked thumbs either.

As back-to-school time nears — when kids may feel the need to know about everything from who's wearing what to why that pop quiz was so tough — the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) is warning students about the dangerous new trend of texting at "inappropriate times."

The emergency physician group says kids and teens need to be more cautious about when and where they text. Why? Because reports of texting-related injuries are on the rise from doctors nationwide. Take Chicago, for example, where people are being treated in emergency rooms because they were texting and took an unexpected spill, often enduring nasty bumps, bruises, and cuts on their faces.

Texting while walking can actually even be fatal. According to the organization, a woman in San Francisco was killed when she walked right into the path of a pickup truck. Of course, that kind of case is rare. But major danger does exist, especially when kids try to multitask in situations that really require their full attention (like driving and walking down a busy street).

The 411 on Texting

When kids and teens text, they're thinking about what to say, focusing on what their thumbs are doing, and reading constantly incoming messages — rather than paying attention to what they're doing or where they're going. And that significantly ups their risk of getting hurt and injuring others, possibly even seriously.

And it doesn't matter if kids can practically text with their eyes closed, as many can (and proudly). Even if it feels like second nature, their brain is still focused on trying to do two things at once — and one of them is bound to get less attention.

Texting while driving, in particular, can turn tragic. In 2007, a 17-year-old driver and four passengers were killed in New York when her SUV crashed, head on, into a tractor-trailer. Though police couldn't say for sure that it was the driver doing the texting or talking, her phone records showed constant activity of sending and receiving text messages and calls in the seconds and minutes right before the crash. The friends had just graduated from high school together less than a week earlier.

Another 17-year-old was suspected of texting while driving when he hit and killed a bicyclist.

Driving while texting (or DWT) is even against the law in some states (Minnesota, Washington, New Jersey, and now Louisiana). And many more are trying to put the same kind of regulations into action.

A growing number of states don't allow drivers to talk on their cell phones either. Although some laws apply to all drivers, other states' legislation are specifically devoted to young people, especially inexperienced drivers and those with learning permits.

Still, a summer 2007 survey, conducted by AAA and Seventeen magazine, found that nearly half of the more than 1,000 16- and 17-year-olds interviewed said that they text during driving. And a little more than half admitted to using a cell phone while behind the wheel.

Another survey that same summer by Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) showed that almost 40% of the nearly 1,000 guys and girls with licenses polled considered driving while texting to be "extremely" or "very" distracting.

What This Means to You

Love it or hate it, texting is a major part of life for many people today, especially teens. They're often compelled to stay connected and in touch from sunup to sundown.

As attached to their communication technologies as they might be, you can help educate your kids about when it's appropriate and, especially, safe to use them. Because not only can it be dangerous for kids (or anyone) to partake in texting while in motion, texting at all times can be downright disruptive and distracting.

To help teens keep their texting in perspective:

  • Emphasize that there's a time and place for texting. When teens are in a texting "conversation" and feel compelled to read responses and answer right away that diverts their attention and prevents them from focusing.
  • Create and enforce family rules about texting, as well as cell phone use overall. Put your foot down and prohibit talking on the phone or texting while:

    o walking

    o running (in public or on a treadmill)

    o riding a bike (or a horse!)

    o skateboarding

    o inline skating

    o walking in crowds, especially at night (they may be at greater risk of theft or assault)

    o driving any kind of vehicle (car, scooter, ATV, motorcycle)

    o operating any type of equipment or machinery (like a lawnmower, the fries machine at work, or the gear at the gym)

    o in class, doing homework, or eating dinner with the family
  • Tell them that if they need to text right away, to first pull off the road, stop jogging, etc., to do it and then resume the sport or activity. Even better, they should wait until they're done to text.
  • Encourage teens to keep both hands on the wheel when driving and skip distractions like eating, reaching for things, switching CDs, changing radio stations, fiddling with portable music players, whooping it up with lots of friends, and applying makeup, says SADD.
  • Find out about your state's young-driver laws (visit The Governors Highway Safety Association's website at, like whether text and cell phone restrictions exist and when teens are permitted on the road (many states have curfews for teen drivers).
  • Recommend ignoring calls or texts (or turning off their phone altogether) while they're involved in anything that requires their full attention, says ACEP.
  • Tell kids to keep their cell phones in easily accessible places like a specific pouch or pocket in their backpack or purse (so they won't have to stop what they're doing to search for it).
  • Encourage kids to pick up the phone and talk instead of using texting as their main source of communication. Messages can be misunderstood (just like email). Sometimes it's better to just have a real live conversation.
  • Be a good role model — don't text or talk on your cell when you should really be focusing your attention elsewhere (like on chauffeuring your kids around town). While you're at it, model other safe driver behaviors like following the speed limit and rules of the road, nixing road rage, and always wearing your seatbelt.

Bottom line: Teach your kids the importance of texting in moderation and to never put their thumbs into action when it places them or other people at risk.

Reviewed by: Kate M. Cronan, MD

Date reviewed: August 2008

Related Resources

OrganizationAmerican Red Cross The website of the American Red Cross provides information on first aid and safety. It also gives details about enrolling in babysitting classes.
OrganizationStudents Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) SADD is a peer leadership organization dedicated to preventing underage drinking, other drug use, impaired driving, and destructive decisions.
Web SiteWiredSafety This online safety group provides help, information, and education to mobile device users of all ages. The site covers everything from identity theft to cyberbullying.

Related Articles

Helping Teens Learn to Drive Parents play an important role in helping teens practice their driving skills and develop confidence behind the wheel.

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

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