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Updated: 10/11/2012 08:00:39AM

Distractions are linked to spikes in injuries, deaths

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People are now well aware of the deadly danger of driving while texting and 10 states and the District of Columbia have passed bans on using handheld cell phones while driving. But new statistics reported in a Wall Street Journal article last weekend suggest cell phone use may be linked to a startling rise in accidents — at home. Meanwhile, a separate study by a child safety advocacy group found a similar culprit to blame in a rise in teen pedestrian accidents.

In “The Perils of Texting While Parenting,” the Journal cited a 12 percent rise in nonfatal, unintentional injuries involving infants and toddlers 5 years old and younger. Tragically, the biggest jump was reported for drownings (35.9 percent) and near drownings (105.3 percent). The Centers for Disease Control reported the trend covers the years between 2007 and 2010 and noted it comes after steady declines in such accidents going back to the 1970s. Child safety experts attribute the decline to home safety campaigns and new products such as staircase baby gates, electrical outlet covers and household poison control efforts. But cell phones may be undoing the advances.

“We may think we’re multi-tasking and not really feeling like we are truly distracted. But in reality, we are,” said Dr. Raul Rastogi, an emergency room physician in Oregon.

It’s not just at home where dangers lurk for under-supervised children. The CDC reported a 17 percent spike between 2007 and 2010 in playground-related injuries. The absence of similar accident trends among older age groups supports the theory that an explosion in cell phone use — 9 million Americans owned cell phones in 2007 versus 63 million in 2010 — can be linked to the rise in infant and toddler accidents. Accidental injury figures for 2011 and 2012 are not available, but with cell phone ownership hitting 114 percent in July 2012, any correlation between accidents and cell phone use by parents would result in an even more alarming increase in preventable injuries.

It’s not just toddlers who are at risk from cell phone-related accidents. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported a 4 percent rise in pedestrian fatalities involving motor vehicles in 2010, but that figure rose to 25 percent among 16 to 19 year-olds, according to a report titled, “Walking Safely: A Report to the Nation,” by SafeKids USA, a non-profit injury prevention group. The report found that a dramatic shift in pedestrian injuries has occurred since 1995, with teens overtaking preteens in pedestrian vs. vehicle deaths.

The number of teen pedestrian deaths is now double that of children ages 5 to 9 and injuries to youngsters ages 16 to 19 jumped 25 percent in the past five years alone. Over the same period, injuries among 5-9-year-olds and 10-15-year-olds fell by 34 percent. Again, police and hospital reports don’t always include causes such as cell phone and portable music player usage, but the demographics strongly suggest a link.

“Distraction due to mobile technologies is an epidemic,” the report concludes.

The personal technology revolution has produced incredible advances in communication. But even as we keep up more with friends and family via cell phones, we’re taking less care to watch where we’re going or keep an eye on our kids. Powerful new television ads highlight the tragic consequences of distracted driving. But the danger of a texting teen walking in front a car or a toddler grabbing a hot saucepan from the stove while a parent is updating their Facebook status is no less real and the results no less disastrous.