Back in the quaint old 20th century, people used to disparage a person of dull intellect by saying he couldn’t walk and chew gum at the same time.
How times and technology have changed things. And a new phrase has entered the lexicon: distracted walking.
That would apply to people who can’t walk and use their cellphones without getting themselves injured.
The National Safety Council has rolled out statistics on the myriad ways that Americans got themselves injured or killed in 2013.
It was the council’s annual accounting of things gone wrong in the home, on the job and on the roadways, in 200-plus pages of fairly depressing but cautionary statistics.
You must stifle your desire to ridicule those who are injured while walking around texting or talking on their cellphones, just as it probably was unfair in the past century to mock those who could not chew while they walked.
For starters, some who are more mindful of their social-
media interactions than of their personal safety end up in the emergency room.
One study cited by the council found that between 2000 and 2011, more than 11,000 people were injured while walking and talking on their phones.
“We’ve seen dramatic increases in injuries serious enough to require emergency-department visits since 2000,” said Kenneth P. Kolosh, the safety council’s manager of statistics. “And we also see that half of these cases involve cellphone-distracted walking that occurred in the home, so it’s not just walking down the street.”
Most of the people who reported to emergency rooms with injuries related to distracted walking were women younger than 40. Nearly 80 percent of injuries were the result of falls, and 9 percent of those who suffered injuries simply walked into something with enough force to hurt themselves.
The range of injuries is impressive. Lots of dislocations or broken bones (25 percent), strains or sprains (24 percent), and plenty of concussions or contusions (23 percent).
Distracted-walking injuries are not exclusively a young person’s affliction: 42 percent of the injured were younger than 30, but there was a healthy representation of victims from older generations.
“We have 20 percent of these injuries happening to individuals at 71 years of age or more,” Kolosh said. “This is impacting all age groups, not just the young, heavy users as you might expect.”
Another bad outcome of people’s fiddling with their mobile devices is far more dangerous than falls and fractures. The council report said that 26 percent of all traffic accidents are linked to drivers using their cellphones, including for texting.
The council estimated that 21 percent of vehicle accidents were attributable to drivers’ talking on cellphones, while 5 percent of drivers involved in accidents were writing or reading text messages.
The report said that unintentional injuries were the fifth-leading cause of death in the United States, after heart disease, cancer, respiratory disease and stroke.
The number of people who died because of unintentional injuries in 2013 was 130,800, an increase of 2.4 percent from the previous year. The number of roadway deaths declined, while other deaths in public and at home increased.
In addition to those who died in 2013, about 39 million people received medical attention for injuries, the report said. The economic impact of the deaths and nonfatal, unintentional injuries was calculated to be $820.6 billion, the report said.
The National Safety Council is a 102-year-old nonprofit organization originally chartered by Congress.