Dying to send that text?

opinion May 15, 2014 00:00

Distracted by our smartphones and other digital devices, we are losing sight of the dangers that surround us

In this age of mobile digital devices, most of us carry around at least one gadget. And we use it wherever we happen to be and whatever we happen to be doing – crossing the road, climbing the stairs, riding a motorcycle, driving a car. 
Concerns over the health impact of phone signals have made headlines, but less publicised are the dangers faced by users becoming distracted. 
Studies in the United States suggest that texting while driving is on a par with driving while drunk, and is a significant risk factor for road accidents. Researchers even found that texting slows the reaction time of drivers more than being drunk. Other studies have shown that 2.5 per cent of people can competently undertake two or more tasks at once. Our brains tend to focus only on one task – those who can “multitask” easily are simply better at switching between two activities, according to research published on the website Science Daily.
A woman was killed recently in the United States when she crashed her car into an oncoming truck while taking a “selfie”. The photo was found on her mobile phone, which recorded the time it was taken – a split second before the accident.
Parents and adults distracted by mobile devices could also be placing the children in their charge at risk of injury or worse. Young children need constant supervision, and if the adult is distracted, the risk to the child increases, say experts.
For pedestrians, talking or texting on the phone can be just as dangerous. A study conducted in hospital emergency rooms in the US found phone users who’d been hit by cars, stumbled into a public fountain, wandered into a sinkhole and fallen off a pier. Common injuries 
 included dislocated shoulders, broken arms and legs and concussions. In the US, cases of injuries to pedestrians distracted by their mobile devices increased nearly 600 per cent from 2005 to 2010, according to a CNN report last year.
In Thailand there has been a slew of incidents, some of them fatal, in which people have been hit by a train or a car while using mobile devices. However, as yet, no official statistics are available.
With mobile devices so user-friendly, the temptation to use them at inappropriate times and places is high. But the consequences are potentially devastating. If we casually insulate ourselves against our surroundings, we also lose touch with the potential hazards circling around us or lying in our path.
The remedy is to raise awareness of the recklessness of such behaviour. This is easier said than done, but people will be more careful if they’re aware of the real danger facing them and their loved ones.
Motorists should pull over and stop before they talk on their phone and pedestrians should avoid using devices when the walkways are busy.
We can’t rely on the law alone to reduce the number of road accidents caused by distracted phone users. It’s difficult to enforce the ban on phone use while driving. Thai law allows the use of “hands-free” phones on the road, but even these can distract drivers from the traffic situation ahead. 
A media campaign could be part of the answer. A 30-minute advert in the US carries the message “If you’re texting, you’re not driving” and depicts a driver on the phone at a crossroads being hit side-on by a speeding truck. Delivering a similar message could help us get our head out of the digital cloud and our eyes back on the road ahead.