- The Washington Times - Friday, August 1, 2008

CHICAGO

The warning came too late for Sen. Barack Obama’s adviser: Don’t walk and text at the same time. Obama aide Valerie Jarrett fell off a Chicago curb several weeks ago while her thumbs were flying on her BlackBerry.

“I didn’t see the sidewalk, and I twisted my ankle,” Ms. Jarrett 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.”

Ms. Jarrett was lucky and didn’t need medical attention.

But in an alert issued this week, the American College of Emergency Physicians warns of the danger of more serious accidents involving oblivious texters. The emergency-room doctors cite rising reports from doctors across the country of injuries involving text-messaging pedestrians, bicyclists, in-line skaters, even motorists.

Most involve scrapes, cuts and sprains from texters who walked into lampposts or walls or tripped over curbs.

Still, 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.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has no national estimate on the frequency of texting-related injuries. But among the reports it has received: A 15-year-old girl fell off her horse while texting, incurring head and back injuries, and a 13-year-old girl suffered belly, leg and arm burns after texting her boyfriend while cooking noodles.

Giancarlo Yerkes texted his way across a busy Chicago street this week and escaped unscathed. But the 30-year-old advertising employee admitted that he once walked straight into a stop sign while texting and bumped his head.

Mr. Yerkes said that he texts while walking and that the emergency doctors’ warning probably won’t stop him.

“There’s a lot of things you shouldn’t do - this is another one on my list,” Mr. Yerkes said.

Dr. James Adams, chairman of emergency medicine at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, said he has treated minor injuries in several texters.

“Common sense isn’t always common,” Dr. Adams said.

Sometimes even among doctors.

“I have to admit that I started a text while I was driving and then I said, ‘This is so stupid,’ so I stopped,” Dr. Adams recalled.

Dr. Patrick Walsh, an emergency physician in Bakersfield, said he is a texter, too, but tries to remind himself to do it intelligently.

“We think we’re multitasking, but we’re not,” he said. “You’re focusing on one task for a split second, then focusing on another one, and with something moving 40 miles an hour like a car, it just takes a couple of seconds to be hit.”

Dr. Walsh, a native of Ireland, said that on a recent visit there he noticed an effective government TV ad campaign against texting and walking, aimed at teenagers.

The message echoes the new advice from U.S. emergency-room doctors.

“We don’t want to sound like some stern schoolmistress, telling people don’t text on your cell phone,” Dr. Walsh said. “But when you’re texting, look around.”

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