By Stephen Tuttle | Dec. 14, 2019
Despite the advances made over the millennia, we humans continue to insist on maiming and killing ourselves, or others, in ever more inventive ways and with ever more poor decision-making.
Our cell phones are the latest culprit.
The National Safety Council reports more than 3,000 traffic deaths last year were directly related to cell phone use. Surprisingly, texting while driving accounted for only about nine percent of the total. The rest resulted from simply not paying attention while talking on the phone and driving (it made no difference if the device was hand-held or hands-free) or looking at something on our beloved phones.
Car accidents, though more deadly, are far from the only cell phone-related injuries. More than 14,000 non-traffic injuries are also linked to our attention to our phones and inattention to everything else. We've all seen the online videos of people staring down at their phones as they fall into fountains or slam into doors, light posts, or traffic signs.
But people are suffering head and neck injuries, facial lacerations, and broken noses from walking into objects, and others are reporting ankle and knee injuries from stepping off or onto something. Such injuries, mostly in the 19–35 age group, have increased 200 percent in the last decade.
As the old bromide goes, it's all fun and games until someone loses an eye, which, incidentally, happened more than 100 times last year directly related to cell phone use. Not to mention the 10 people who died while taking selfies where selfies shouldn't be taken.
Too many of us are now addicted to those little screens. According to Deloitte's 2018 Global Mobile Consumer Survey, the average cell phone user looks at their phone 52 times a day. Other surveys have put the frequency at more than 100 times a day.
The number of people who must be so attentive to their phones is pretty small: those awaiting an organ transplant, those with a partner due to give birth, doctors on call, members of volunteer fire departments, and few others.
Still, we see them everywhere, their heads downcast as they amble toward us on sidewalks, in grocery stores, or in the gym (and, no, texting while sitting on a piece of exercise equipment does not count as working out) while in a cell phone trance. It's become a little bizarre — a world of people oblivious to the pillar with which they will soon collide.
Regrettably, cell phone accidents are just the tiniest tip of the accident iceberg.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), we are accidentally hurting and killing ourselves from all manner of causes at a record pace. Last year, we made 39.5 million visits to doctor's offices and 29.2 million visits to emergency rooms as the result of accidents. Most required little treatment and no hospitalization but not all.
Nearly 170,000 of us will die accidentally this year, another increase in a decades-long escalation.
Falls alone account for some 36,000 deaths. Nearly 40,000 died from automobile accidents. And 65,000 died from what is categorized as “poisoning” but is almost entirely drug-overdose-related. (For those interested, accidental or undetermined firearm discharge accounted for fewer than 800 deaths last year.)
Maybe we should be paying attention.
There's a different, completely preventable human error currently ongoing. It involves unvaccinated people — mostly children — and the measles. This year saw measles outbreaks in Washington, Oregon, New York, Georgia, and in some of the tonier areas in California. Nearly every case involved those who had not been vaccinated.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that there have been 140,000 deaths caused by measles this year, most in sub-Saharan Africa among largely unvaccinated populations. In addition to the deaths, some survivors will suffer long-term health issues. Due to large outbreaks, four countries, including England and Greece, were removed from the list of places where measles have been eradicated.
There is currently a measles epidemic on Samoa, where only 30 percent of the population had been vaccinated, that has already taken 70 lives, 62 of whom were children under 5. The island was recently closed to all outsiders for two days, and those who have yet to receive their now mandatory vaccination have been forced to quarantine in their homes as the government tries to stem the spread of one of the world's most contagious diseases. If the same rate of infection occurred in the U.S., we would have seven million cases of measles.
Adults accidentally maiming and killing themselves is sad enough. Adults failing to protect children from a disease than can be debilitating, and even deadly, is tragic. More than 140,000 children died needlessly this year because their government or their parents, adults all, were unable or unwilling to protect them.
That's just wrong.