Medicine for the Outdoors
Medicine for the Outdoors

Dr. Paul Auerbach is the world's leading outdoor health expert. His blog offers tips on outdoor safety and advice on how to handle wilderness emergencies.

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Texting Can Be Hazardous for Your Health

Texting is dangerous when driving an automobile, as dramatically portrayed in an article in the New England Journal of Medicine (2010;362:23) entitled “The Most Primary of Care – Talking about Driving and Distraction” by Amy Ship, MD. In the State of California (and across most of the nation), we’re aware of the penalties imposed upon drivers who are caught texting while driving. Given that the prevailing opinion is that texting is as distracting to a driver as being intoxicated, that makes sense. Having attempted to text while driving, I believe this to be true. In fact, I’ve noticed that even when using a Bluetooth device, talking on the phone is a distraction. Anything that diverts one’s attention from the act of paying attention to the road and driving is a distraction. 

The same holds true for bicyclists. I regularly drive across the Stanford University campus, and am appalled to see students riding their bicycles without helmets, while talking on their cell phones or texting. They ignore stop signs, cross intersections illegally on diagonal paths, and sometimes pedal without their hands on the handlebars. The only reason they’re not hauled into the E.R. is because campus automobile drivers are hyper-vigilant and aware of the foolish behavior of the cyclists on campus.

I was on a mountain bike trail recently and guess what? There was a young man crumpled over his bike, having been flung into the bushes on the side of a trail. Fortunately, he only had a few scrapes and a cut that wouldn’t need stitches, but was full of grease and dirt from his bicycle chain. When I asked him what happened, he sheepishly admitted that he had taken his attention off the trail to adjust his iPod. His front wheel struck a large rock, and he was tossed.

We should all try to take our attention off of our cell phones if we want to lessen the danger of being in an accident. That holds true in the car, on a bicycle, on a trail, driving a boat, or in any other situation where distraction decreases attentiveness to the task at hand, slows response time, or even makes a person completely unaware of the surroundings. Wearing earphones or headphones blocks out external stimuli. If the music is loud enough, you cannot detect something coming up on your from behind or the side, which is a dangerous situation if the approaching object is moving at high speed and can strike you with force. You cannot hear a call for help, thunder in the distance, or the growl of a grizzly bear. We get by on our senses and wits, so blunting either is not a viable strategy for activities in the outdoors.

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Tags: Climbing High , On the Road , Staying Safe

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About the Author

Dr. Paul S. Auerbach is the world’s leading authority on wilderness medicine.