8/20/2012 2:15 PM ET|
Will your technology kill you?
Texting while walking can cause embarrassing spills, serious injury or even death. But it is just one way our devotion to gadgets may be shortening our lives.
Most of us are lucky enough not to have our embarrassing moments broadcast for the world to see.
Not Vaz Terdandenyan of La Crescenta, Calif. He's the guy who was texting his boss that he would be late to work when he nearly walked into a black bear that was roaming his neighborhood. The scene, including his "feet don't fail me now" bolt away from the animal, was recorded by a news crew hovering overhead in a helicopter.
Cathy Cruz Marrero of Reading, Pa., didn't escape public notice either. She became the "Fountain Lady" after the Internet release of security camera footage showing her tripping and falling into a mall fountain while texting.
"Texting while walking" mishaps have become so common they've inspired pranks such as padded lampposts in London and Philadelphia's "e-lane," an April Fools' Day hoax video about a designated area set up for texting walkers.
The accidents aren't always funny. A distracted 26-year-old woman in Salt Lake City was killed after walking in front of a light-rail commuter train. A 19-year-old man in Australia plunged to his death from a seven-story parking garage. A 34-year-old man in Los Angeles died after being hit by a big rig.
People used to worry that radiation from television sets and cellphones would kill us. It turns out there's a much more immediate threat: our own obliviousness in using our gadgets.
Read on for some of the ways your technology can kill you -- or your kids.
Walking while distracted
About three people a day are treated in U.S. emergency rooms for injuries suffered while walking and using a phone or some other electronic device, according to data collected by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The commission thinks the actual number may be much higher, since emergency-room patients don't always report that they were distracted. If they do, doctors don't always note the fact on official records.
After three pedestrians in Fort Lee, N.J., died while texting, the city started issuing $85 tickets to distracted walkers. Anomaly or the start of a trend? It's hard to know. In the meantime, if you insist on moving while you text, consider an app that lets you see the ground in front of you.
Driving while distracted
Talking on a cellphone while driving is equivalent to driving drunk; you're four times more likely to get in an accident. Texting is even worse: The risk rises to 20 times.
Often, those accidents are fatal. Texting while driving led to more than 16,000 fatalities between 2002 and 2007, according to researchers from the University of North Texas Health Center who analyzed traffic data from the Fatality Accident Reporting System and texting data from the Federal Communications Commission and CTIA, a trade group for wireless carriers.
If the risk of disabling injury or death isn't enough to get you to put the phone away, consider this: Causing a single accident can make your auto insurance premiums. An analysis of 841,000 car insurance quotes at CarInsurance.com for single-driver, single-car policies that included physical-damage coverage showed that drivers who'd made one claim were quoted rates that averaged $300.25 more than drivers who'd made no claims, a difference of 16.7%.
Concerns about headphone use are as old as headphones themselves. But there's evidence that today's young'uns are spending significantly more time listening to music because of MP3 players -- and it's putting them at risk.
The time spent listening to music by kids, ages 8 to 18, rose from an average of one hour, 44 minutes per day in 2004 to two hours, 19 minutes in 2009, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation study. Headphones pose a special risk to hearing, since louder high frequencies aren't dissipated in the air but delivered directly to the eardrum. Perhaps it shouldn't be a surprise, then, that hearing loss among teenagers is now 30% more prevalent than in the 1980s and 1990s, according to a study in The Journal of the American Medical Association.
Sometimes the music is loud enough to obscure that honking car -- or even that blaring train horn. Serious injuries to pedestrians listening to headphones have more than tripled in six years, according to a study by the University of Maryland School of Medicine and the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore.
In seven out of 10 cases, the pedestrian died. Males under 30 were the most at risk -- more than two-thirds of victims were in this demographic. More than half of the accidents involved trains.
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