OVMC and EORH Push Awareness of Texting and Driving During National Trauma Month

Monday, July 26, 2010

Email: jzatezalo@ovrh.org

Texting is a simple and effective form of communication many of us use on a daily basis. While it may seem like an innocent task, texting while driving can delay reaction time equal to or slower than having a blood alcohol level at the legal limit of .08.

Studies have shown at any given moment, more than 800,000 Americans were texting, making calls, or using a handheld cell phone while driving during the daytime. These drivers are four times as likely to cause crashes serious enough to require medical attention.

In observance of this year's National Trauma Month, Ohio Valley Medical Center and East Ohio Regional Hospital are stressing the importance of responsible phone practices while driving. While text messaging and driving is just one form of distracted driving, it is one of the most common and most dangerous distractions on today's roads. In 2009 alone, 5,870 people died and more than a half-million were hurt in crashes involving a distracted or inattentive driver, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The statistics show that young, inexperienced drivers are disproportionately represented among these drivers and cell phones are the number one distraction.

"These numbers are alarming, especially because these potential accidents are completely avoidable," said Dr. Robert Cross, trauma medical director and chief of surgery at EORH. "The problem with the use of 24/7 communication devices is that every driver believes he or she is immune to slip ups, but isn't. It's our job as surgeons to try and fix the horrific outcomes that can come from texting-related accidents."

A new road test by Car and Driver magazine showed dramatically slower reaction times by two test drivers who tried to brake while reading, and separately, writing text messages. On average, the drivers' reaction time was 20 percent slower when prompted to use the brakes and following distance behind cars increased 30 percent as the drivers failed to keep pace with simulated traffic while driving. The average reaction time for each driver was .54 seconds. However, when reading emails or answering text messages, the drivers required an additional 36 to 70 feet of space in order to stop the vehicle.

"Texting while driving is a serious issue," said Dr. Howard Shackelford, trauma medical director and chief of surgery at OVMC.  "It's amazing the number cases we see in our emergency rooms from this type of texting-related accidents. This topic is on the minds of many Americans already, but it is important to understand the traumatic outcomes and risk involved with this kind of behavior, even at a local level."

The trend of texting while driving has become prevalent nationally. Oprah Winfrey has even launched a No Phone Zone campaign urging cell phone users across the country to commit to making their car a No Phone Zone. To date, 329,585 pledge commitments have been submitted. With distracted driving killing nearly 6,000 Americans in 2009, it’s no mystery that cell phone use is risky for drivers.

"Distracted driving is dangerous for all drivers," said Cross. "At some point, people behind the wheel will realize the importance of not texting while driving, and our roads will be much safer because of it. Let's hope that realization comes sooner rather than later."

Ohio Valley Medical Center, located in Wheeling, West Virginia, and East Ohio Regional Hospital, located in Martins Ferry, Ohio, are a 340 bed combined organization providing quality primary and tertiary healthcare to the Ohio Valley.